The Art of Good Guesting
In my books, cottaging is a part of what defines a great Canadian summer. That is, the practice of traveling to ones own or a friend or family member’s remote(ish) cottage (or “cabin” as it is called in the west), preferably near a body of water for the purposes of relaxation and enjoyment of each other and the great outdoors
Not having a retreat of my own, I am extremely blessed to be invited to those of my friends at points east and west across the continent. From PEI to New York state to Muskoka to my current perch on Qualicum Beach, B.C., from fashion sense to leaving no trace, I have learned a thing or two about the art of good guesting. Because you want to get invited back right? You know what they say about guests: They’re like fish. After a few days they start to stink. Here’s how to keep yourself fresh.
It’s important to reach out to your host in advance to inquire about what to bring. Offer to supply your own sheets and a towel. And don’t expect sunscreen to be provided for you.
Food is, obviously a big consideration. Some hosts take it seriously, planning menus and controlling every detail, while others just want someone else to take care of food preparation. Be clear about what type of host yours is and respect it. Either way, you must offer to be responsible for at least one meal and that means bringing all the ingredients for such.
Bring more booze then you will drink yourself. This is the one area where you must be particularly generous. Whether it gets drunk or not (and it usually does) booze never goes to waste. Bring lots and don’t ask to be reimbursed. Just because you are a guest it doesn’t mean this weekend won’t cost you. It’s costing your host more. For extra points bring ingredients for a signature cocktail.
Always clean up. Not just after yourself and your kids, but there is a never ending need to tidy and wash dishes. Leave no trace, whenever possible. But don’t be a hero. Constantly working will eventually make others uncomfortable and turn you into a bore. Indeed, socializing is a critical part of good guesting. Don’t only talk about yourself, ask questions of others and spread your attention across the group of both adults and kids. This morning I had a fantastic conversation with a 9 year old.
If you have a hidden talent, like singing or playing guitar, now’s your chance. I can cook and I also have a habit of cliff jumping. Several summers ago I jumped off a 100 foot cliff into a lake and while I seriously questioned my choice on the way down, my so called bravery seems to have become legendary and gets me invited back regularly. I’m not suggesting others mimic such stupidity, but be a gamer. Take part in activities. And bring a gift, whether it’s a bocci set or a wine bottle opener or a waterproof case for an iPhone. Anything that can be used or will entertain the group will be appreciated.
If you have a pet, obviously it needs to be specifically invited. Just because you’re on the guest list doesn’t mean Spot is too. If he is, you need to take extra care to ensure he too is a good guest. Bring his own food, supplies and remember that just because you’re a dog person it doesn’t mean others are too.
Cottaging is by definition a casual experience. So bring appropriate clothing, but don’t be a slob. Take short showers, brush your teeth and change your t-shirt every once in awhile. Freshen up for dinner.
At the end of the day, pick up on the flow of the group and go with it. Your host should never feel like they are having to take care of you. Don’t be a stinky fish. You’ll know how well you did if you get invited back next summer.