The Low Impact Guest
My appreciation for this topic can probably be traced to an article I read wayyyy back when I was living single in NYC, and my leisure time bible was the weekly Time Out New York magazine. This was sometime after Al Gore had invented the Internet, but before the Internet was a go to resource for real communication let alone lifestyle-enhancing research. Magazines like Time Out New York were the resource for weekend planning. In my early days as an east coast/urban newbie I did not even know what the heck a Hampton was. It did not take long before I realized “The Hamptons” were not only a place, but also the Holy Grail of weekend away invites for city-bound, cash-challenged, carless singles like myself.
It was sometime in that first hot summer that I read a Time Out article about what to do if you scored a weekend Hamptons invite–how not to screw it up and how to assure that you would be invited again. There was some good specific advice that stayed with me—bring really good coffee, get out of your host’s hair in the morning, etc—but the article itself long ago made the journey to a recycling scow in the East River. As I recall, it all boiled down to being a low-impact guest.
Low impact guests do not dominate the host’s physical or psychic space. They bring lots of good yummy stuff but don’t take over the kitchen and precious refrigerator/freezer space (see “Easy as Pie“). They don’t need to be served, or entertained 24/7 and they help out with household duties. (Note: In researching similar articles I see that a lot of good guesting advice stresses good hygiene. I mean a lot of it, which sort of makes me nervous. It is assumed on this site that our readers have good basic hygiene, or if they don’t it’s a temporary and consciously attained state, as in while camping.)
Other good guesting things to keep in mind, whether going somewhere for dinner or for a few days: It’s always appreciated when you bring a gift to share (food, drink, activity) during your visit, and something to leave with the host after you depart. Need ideas? Consider these most excellent host/hostess gifts (and please let us know your faves so we can add them to the list). What you really want is something your hosts will love and use often, something that will make them think, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to have them back again?”
And now, a word of advice on overzealousness. Some hosts insist that you bring nothing to a party and they really mean it. In that case you certainly do not want to bring something they are expected to use or consume that night BUT you can certainly bring flowers (already in a vase) or a little something that they can enjoy (or regift) later. Similarly, it is always nice to help clear the table and offer your help in cleaning up, but some hosts do NOT want your help doing the dishes. Recognize the subtle difference between slight protest…”I’m saying no but I will not resist if you ask twice) and a real turf war…”I’ve told you three times to get outta my kitchen so I can enjoy a fun evening and clean up alone later.”
If you are staying overnight the rules of engagement are different. In that case take the lead and just pitch in where necessary or divvy us tasks with other guest. In other words, don’t ask “How can I help?” Just help!