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Houseguestiquette: A Guide

When it comes to houseguestiquette, the etiquette of having and being a houseguest, it is best to do as I say, not as I do. Not only am I a conscientious pull-out couch resister, but, as both a host and houseguest, I’ve always been too punk rock to be Martha Stewart. I also subscribe less to the old adage that “houseguests, like fish, spoil after three days” than to the belief that no fish served in New York is ever remotely fresh—all attendant metaphors applicable. But when the necessary evil of hosting out-of-towners rears its ugly head because either a.) they have bequeathed to you a kidney, an egg (ovarian or nest), or their genes; or b.) you spent the last two years luxuriating in their Tuscan villa/London townhouse/government-insulated bunker, it’s best to adhere to a few handy, hard-earned guidelines.

On Channeling Your Inner Julie McCoy

Even in this city, there do exist the eternal Hostess CupCakes, a là Love Boat cruise director Julie McCoy—people who relish regularly trooping to the Statue of Liberty, pointing out Seinfeld hotspots, keeping on hand a store of maps, pamphlets, and tour books, and surrendering both their bed and any semblance of a daily routine. Those people often also enjoy being urinated on in certain downtown after-hour clubs. But for most of us, after our 10th houseguest cheerily pronounces, upon sleeping in our beds for 50 straight days and draining our supplies of beer, Kiehl's products, and toilet paper with no recompense but a 9/11 T-shirt, that New York is “okay to visit but [they] sure wouldn’t want to live here,” your inner Julie McCoy Julie McCurdles.

Really, it’s best just to ensure that your houseguest isn’t house-aghast. Hide your dildos and porn, set her up with a cleanesque towel, decent directions, and at least one night on the town, and kick aside enough mess so that she can hang her proverbial hat. Above all, refrain from practicing or requiring any houseguesswork, though certain subsequent blunt exchanges may render you nostalgic for old-fashioned passive-aggression. To wit: Host: “Do you mind making yourself scarce for 10 minutes? I haven’t had the privacy to masturbate in a week.” Houseguest: “No, but I’d prefer not going out with your friends tonight as they’re reactionary assholes.”

Houseguests: A Study

There exist many types of houseguests. Houseghosts keep out of your hair but treat you like a conveniently located innkeeper, startling you when they creep in at odd hours. Often the only proof of their existence is a taunting accumulation of theater bills, dirty dishes, and lipstick stains. Housedrones convert your apartment into their office space, monopolizing your DSL and barking into your phone, "Sell! Sell!” while you tiptoe by to fix your morning coffee. Teach them the following rhyme: “While clearly capitalist ruses / mobile phones and wireless cards / do have their uses.”

Houseboar-ders pollute your space with their bad manners, bad hygiene, and bad chi. They can be identified by the Prada shirt they “borrowed” from you—stained by the merlot they opened that you were saving for a special occasion. Do not confuse houseboarders with hostel-invaders. Also known as feng-shui-for-nothings, these offenders are renowned for rearranging without your consent your heaviest pieces of furniture, and for the “helpful" laundering that results in their shrinking said Prada shirt, whose stain you only recently removed. Gently suggest to the hostel-invader that “houseguest” is not a synonym for “household member”—unless he wishes to share a different type of member.

Finally, haloguests not only pay for all of your meals and drinks during their stay and return your space to neutral immediately upon exiting it, but also will bed you should you so require, neatly and quietly disposing of the housespunk in an excellent display of houseguestsexiquette.

Houseguests: An Itinerary

An ideal houseguest follows the following guidelines, particularly if he wishes to be invited back to my house:

1. Arrival. Check meteorological, astrological, and menstrual cycles to determine least offensive visit dates, and arrange own transportation from door to door. Announce far in advance arrival and departure times so that host may mark them on calendar, prisoner style. Regardless of religious affiliation, when visiting, be a good Jew, and never come empty-handed. Bear toys for the kids and pets, and copious amounts of alcohol to anesthetize host for the visit to come.

2. Habitation. Go easy on the sheets, carefully laundering out all urine, blood, and sexual stains accrued during stay. Respect the pets, carrying allergy medicine rather than insisting they be kept under houseguest arrest. Do not inflict upon host any dietary restrictions or predilections, including macrobiotics, vegetarianism, vegetablephobia, or fruitarianism. Take short houseguestashits, taking care to light matches from own supply upon their completion. Most importantly, regulate disorders:

When shooting up, never leave works in public areas, and refrain from drooling, vomiting, and nodding out on host’s couch. If houseguest depletes host’s alcohol or drug supplies, replace them with the same brands or stashes from the same dealers, carefully recycling bottles and syringes in neighbors’ bins to avoid casting host as local chapter president of Leaving Las Vegas, Brooklyn Style.

If bulimic, refrain from emptying host’s refrigerator and clogging up her drains. If obsessive-compulsive, request a specific area in which to contain compulsion (the clever host can parlay that obsession quite usefully by providing houseguest with a scrub brush and leading him to the bathroom floor). If kleptomaniac, refrain from stealing host’s partner, favorite CD, or time. Spiritual proselytizing is forbidden, no matter how surely a host is headed to hell in a hand basket, or how dark his aura may be. Refrain from practicing the Tyranny of the Overtherapized. It is not a host’s responsibility to breast-feed her houseguest just because his own mother would not.

3. Departure. Avoid housepestilence, never burdening a host with anything requiring food, water, labor, or money—including plants, unwanted food, empty shoe boxes, phone sex bills, progeny, and vermin. Big Al, my mother’s youngest brother, once flopped at our house after his six-week bender burnt down his apartment building. More than a houseguest, he was a louseguest; from him I learned the double entendre of the word “roach.”

Finally, a tip for Brooklyn hosts: Put a New York twist on a custom from our more-polite Southern counterparts. Rather than leaving their traditional pineapple in a malingering houseguest’s room when it’s time she left, place a rotting (big) apple on her possessions. It may put the “b” back in subtle, but then again, there’s a reason our fine borough of Brooklyn starts with the very same letter.


Lisa Rosman


The Brooklyn Rail


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