In the Foreign Service people often talk about what it takes to be a good host, which is understandable since many people are in positions where they have to entertain or have representational functions in their homes, etc. But I’ve never spent much time thinking about how to be a good guest.

We just had our eighth guest since arriving at post leave today. And we’re expecting two more in May that will round it up to 10. They’ve stayed anywhere from five days to two months, and it’s been fantastic spending time with every single one of them. I imagine we will have even more when we get to London.

Many of our guests have done sweet little things that have either touched me or surprised me and made me think about what kind of a guest I would like to be. So I’ve compiled a little list of things, inspired by our visitors, that I am going to try to keep in mind when it’s my turn. Because I already have three people in Europe that I plan on invading with my husband and our son as soon as they get comfortable in their posts. 🙂

Bring a Gift.

Especially if your hosts live in a difficult country with little infrastructure, and you’re coming from the States, it’s very nice to ask them if there’s anything they’d like you to bring. My husband is particularly fond of Taco Bell fire sauce and is always delighted when someone brings him a few packages. Our guest that left today was a friend of my husband’s and currently lives and works in Ethiopia. Not only did he bring my hubby some fantastic Ethiopian coffee, but he brought me a stunningly beautiful pashmina made partly of blue silk and gold thread. I was so surprised, I think my jaw might’ve audibly dropped. Another thoughtful couple brought our son a toy, and he’s still asking where they are two months after they’ve gone home.

Pitch In.

I’m not saying you have to do chores or babysit the kids, but don’t expect your host to foot the bill for everything. If they get a large number of visitors that could probably break their bank. Our guests have been kind enough to do everything from treating us to a meal here and there to helping pay for groceries (especially on longer visits) to handing us cash on the way out the door. All of which we are eternally grateful for.

Be Flexible.

Whether your goal is to just hang with the family you’re staying with and catch up on old times or see every tourist site within a hundred-mile radius, remember that they’re not necessarily on vacation. If they haven’t been able to take much time off, they probably still have to work, or they still have to get up at 6am with the baby. So you might have more fun if you can take a little initiative and do a little sightseeing on your own. A few of our guests have been able to spend quality time with us and then puttered off to go diving or snorkeling further afield when we couldn’t quite get away. So they were able to get the best of both worlds.

Be Patient.

Never think for a minute that they’re not excited to have you there. But tired hosts can sometimes be cranky hosts. And even though they might be having the time of their lives hanging out with you, it could be a disruption to whatever scheduled or orderly life they might normally maintain. So don’t take it personally if your host gets a little snippy now and then. Just give them a big hug and tell them how happy you are to be there…or give them a little distance, whichever you think they’d prefer.

Keep It Short.

Benjamin Franklin supposedly said that “fish and houseguests smell after three days.” I think that’s a little abrupt. I’d say that a week or two is usually good. Again, it will depend on how close your relationship is with your hosts and what your vacation goals are. In Belize it wouldn’t take longer than a week to see pretty much everything, unless you’re a real adventurer and want to get lost in the jungle. On the other hand you could spend years in the UK and not see everything they have to offer. But the longer you stay, the more you might need to exercise some of that patience. 😉

So those are some ideas. This is by no means an exhaustive list. And please don’t think that if you’ve come to visit us, and you haven’t done any or all of the above that we were any less excited to see you. That is not the point of this post. I just wanted to thank all of our guests that have taken the time and made the effort to come all the way to see us and to let them know how much we appreciated it. Hope to see you all again soon!