Have you ever wondered if you have lost your manners or people never learnt them? Yes, manners are subjective. People can’t agree on the same etiquette living on the same street, it’s hard to expect uniformity when you go halfway across the world. Still, some people do.
Someone I know since I high school — we have seen each other only once after graduating — recently moved to the West Coast. We got back in touch and when he decided to come to New York, I agreed to host him.
I’ve hosted a couple friends since I’ve lived here but this was a very strange time. My friend, let’s call him B, arrives and he expected the kind of guest treatment that I have never given or expected from anyone.
Fun fact #3: My parents raised me to be an extremely cultured and polite guest. I must always behave when I go to someone else’s house, pick up after myself, not ask for anything until really necessary, not expect much, be polite and self-sufficient. I’m a low-maintenance guest, if you will. And I like that. In fact, I’ve taken that to a whole other level in In America, I’ve become much, much more independent and hate to impose as a guest. I always promise my host that I’ll be out of their hair.
First, B makes the executive decision to come during the week, not the weekend. Then, he insisted that I take days off work and show him around the city. He also asked me to prepare an itinerary for him and when he was out and about in the city, he called me at work several times to make real time spending decisions for him. “Is the tourist guy asking for the right price in exchange for entry tickets to two tourist spots? And by the way, should I go to the Top of the Rock as you suggested on World Trade Center, as he suggests?” It looked like last night’s work of writing an itinerary down for him, going through it several times and emphasizing why he should go to Top of the Rock wasn’t enough.
He also asked me to make dinner the night he got in and then said he was too full to eat. I’m not a clean freak but he left his stuff all over the house, the blankets, the bowls he ate from, etc. It felt like I was expected to pick up after him if I wanted to make sure my other flatmates weren’t inconvenienced and as if I was supposed to spoon-feed him.
Talk about a tough guest. But I didn’t have any of it. Which brings me to my hosting manners.
Fun fact #2: Growing up, my mom set an example for me to be an ever-present host, who goes out of her way to take care of a guest’s needs. She works and is also super domestic, the kind of a superwoman, who thinks of every little detail. Luxury gyms take years to figure out how to take care of their guest’s every little need, but mom just knows. (Sorry, I’ve been exercising lately.)
In short, be an extremely kind host but don’t be the guest that expects grand gestures.
Here’s how a dinner situation would play out, for example.
Guests play coy with their food serving. They talk small portions on their plate. And your role as a guest is to insist on a second serving. If the guest accepts the second serving, then it indicates that the food was genuinely good. If the guest takes a big portion on the plate to start with, that makes the host happy, too. But guests shouldn’t shock them with a full plate with no space. Unless, you’re at a wedding, in which case, feel free to go crazy.
Go crazy with the serving at weddings. Scene from “3 Idiots”.
But I digress.
Fun Fact #3: I’m nothing like my mom or the Indian super host. When I came to America, I realized that hosts take a hands-off approach. Here, people typically don’t like you hovering over them. Especially when they visit a city like New York, they want some independence to do what they want and go wherever they want without a chaperone. A couple years ago, I had also noticed how kids feel free to pry into the their host’s fridge to get whatever food they want, instead of asking. It felt really weird to me because my mom always taught me to ask. But it works brilliantly, actually, given the extreme paucity of time in everyone’s lives. And now, with the culture change, I’m a hands-off host. It’s perfect.
I like that I can give my guest a couch and then they will suit themselves as they most prefer, without me having to stress about what they like, what would be best and worrying about feeding them every second and making sure their needs are catered to. I know they’ll be fine and if they can’t find something, they’ll ask. I’m not aspiring to be a superwoman in this domain, I guess.
So with my friend, I gave him suggestions for places he should check out and he was free to improvise as he went. But I refused to take days off work because the U.S. isn’t very generous with vacation days and he isn’t a close friend or family. Needless to say, his high expectations and my unwillingness to meet them strained the situation a bit. I needed him to independently go around the city and respect my time and not disturb me at work for random things. He wanted me to be his best friend and show him everything.
I like to think that it’s not all culture change. Maybe this is the universal style and it’s how all millennial hosts like to roll. I need for money to afford food and a roof over my head, for which I need to work.
Now, I feel like a bit of a jerk. So, I need some answers from you. I expect they will differ depending on where you’ve grown up, where you live and what your culture is but tell me:
- When you visit someone’s house, do you expect them to be around all the time to take care of you? Or do you expect them to go about their day and you’ll be fine?
- When you host someone, do you make sure you go out of your way to make their stay comfortable? Or do you go about your day because you don’t want to be overbearing?
- Do you take days off work to hang around with your guest? No matter how distant or close they are?
- Assuming that your guest is not your closest friend or family, what are some needs you take care of for your guest before and while they’re visiting?
I might also need to rethink this policy of letting anyone I know crash on my couch.