How to Be a Good Guest When Visiting Friends Abroad

by biltong101

IMG_8054Your friend lives in a foreign country, which you have never visited before. This is a great opportunity to cut down on expenses by staying with them and/or learn about the place from an insider. That sounds amazing but it’s important that you don’t abuse their generosity. In today’s post, Dear Reader, you’ll learn how to be a good guest when visiting a friend abroad.

In years of living in an interesting country, I have hosted (let stay with me) and semi-hosted (shown around and taken places) dozens of friends and acquaintances. While some people are grateful gems that with their attitude encourage you to share more and more (and more!) of your time with them, many aren’t exactly at their best behavior. This probably has to do with the fact that unless the host decides to take some time off for you (which is btw a favor you can expect only from the closest dearest friends and family) you have a conflict of interest. You’re on holiday and want to explore, party, sleep to little or too much and in general enjoy your time off. Your host is on a schedule. They have work to go to, friends to see and if they’re in a relationship, a partner to spend quality time with. You may think they could put all of this on hold because after all how often do YOU visit them. This is, however, a rather entitled attitude. People are busy and you surely know that to make that much space in your own calendar, as you expect from someone else should the situation be reversed, would be difficult.

The staying together scenarios are much more challenging, especially if you only have one set of keys. I’ve had people who would slack around in the morning, even though I made it clear I had to leave at certain time to go to work. I always warned my guests about the circumstances so perhaps that’s why I found it so annoying when they’d be surprised that I meant what I said. In general, if you’re staying with someone you should respect whatever silly rules they may have in their house. I’m sure your parents told you that when you lived with them in your childhood! Well, during your stay, your host is a little bit like your parents, only that it’s less embarrassing when they catch you masturbating. Obviously, apart from the rules you should also respect your host’s possessions. Try not to destroy anything. It really is possible! If you happen to break something, don’t hide it behind the curtain and pretend it wasn’t you (true story). Your host may get upset because of a precious souvenir you’ve damaged but they’re probably not that much of an ogre and they will forgive you eventually. Last but not least, please (please, please!) don’t pressure people into hosting you. The argument “I can just crash on the couch” or “I’ll just get a sleeping bag” isn’t that convincing to a host with an established life. Sure, in my student/early professional times I used to be less fussed but having someone on my floor for two weeks or more is actually an inconvenience these days. Like in many other situations a “no” is a no and the answer “because I don’t want to” is enough so don’t get bent out of shape.

The “show around” model is much better for preserving a friendship or an acquaintanceship. I don’t know about you, but I feel much more positive about people when I don’t see them misusing my coffee machine or putting their shoes on my couch! Besides, I really like showing Cape Town to people just like a proud mother hen would like to show off her chicks to others. Having visitors makes you look at the place you live in with a new set of eyes and it can be a very rewarding experience. Even if I can’t (or don’t want to) accompany a guest on each trip during their visit, I try to recommend places to go and sometimes hook them up with others keen on doing things. Now, as much as I don’t expect my guests to be proclaiming Cape Town to be the best city in the world and decide to start their new life here, they should remember it is my home. As you wouldn’t walk into someone’s apartment and criticize it harshly, this also holds true for a country or a city one lives in. A perception of a tourist can be misleading and passing judgment lightly in front of someone who’s been living somewhere for years is, well, a bit silly to say the least. Hint: Don’t say “How can you live here? What a nightmare!”, even if that’s how you feel.

Cape Town and South Africa in general are complicated places. I occasionally have my serious doubts about living here because it really is a mixed bag. I’m not blind about security issues and there’s a lot that I don’t like here. I did choose it for my home and I’m trying to see the best as everyone sensible does in their own country (you know, seeing a glass half-full?). The choices of your friends may not be understandable for you but that’s your problem and grilling them isn’t something you should be doing. I’m particularly sensitive about racist flavored comments. For instance one of the people visiting asked me with audible irritation “Why are they so many black people here???”. I mean, for real? 😳 Can there be a stupider remark to make about an African country? Traveling is supposed to open your eyes. It’s not about going places and relentlessly comparing them to your city, labeling different as bad. Are you honestly looking for a replica of where you live somewhere else? New and different is fascinating! Reading a little bit about a place before you got there isn’t the worst idea ever either. It may lessen the shock during the visit. Being  prepared also means being a good guest and so does a genuine interest in new places and a sense of wonder.

To sum up, if you want to be a good guest when visiting a friend abroad be grateful for whatever they can give you in terms of time and/or accomodation. Show interest in the place they live in and don’t pass constant judgments. Gratitude and appreciation will make your host remember you fondly and in that way you’ll truly get the best of your experience in the country.

Can you call yourself a good guest, Dear Reader? Maybe you’re a host and you have some nightmarish stories of hosting to share? Go wild in the comments!