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House guest etiquette for guests and hosts

Melanie Whitehouse / 26 November 2015 ( 05 December 2019 )

We’re all likely to be staying with friends and relatives or having them to stay with us over the Christmas period. Here’s how to behave so everyone’s happy.

Fresh towels
Make sure your guests have fresh towels and toiletries, and know where they are kept

When you’re a guest in someone else's house

Before you arrive

Guests are like fish – after a few days they begin to go off, so arrange your visiting dates in advance and stick to them.

Never show up unannounced - it’s inconvenient and arrogant to expect people to be able to fit you in when they have a busy Christmas schedule.

Do call if you are delayed en route, so they know to turn the oven down or leave a key for you if they have to go out.

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What to bring

Always bring a gift. If you don’t want to buy a present for everyone who’ll be there on Christmas day, luxury edibles - smoked salmon, homemade cheese straws, handmade chocolates and locally produced cheeses - are a good compromise that everyone can share. Otherwise, flowers, a plant, smellies or a board game are always welcome.

If you and your other half like a drink, then make sure to bring a generous supply of wine/champagne/gin, not just one bottle.

When you arrive

Ask about house rules and respect them: should you smoke outside, should you take your shoes off, where can you put muddy wellies after a walk, is the dog allowed upstairs…?

While you're there

Help around the house without being asked. Peel veg, set the table, wash up, look after the kids, take the dog for a walk. Your hosts are busy enough without having to do everything themselves while you sit sipping a cocktail.

Don’t help yourself to the contents of the fridge or the bathroom – ask first if you’re peckish or if you’ve left behind your toothpaste or other essentials.

Never throw your wet towels on the floor for someone else to pick up. Hose down the shower or bath after use. Make your bed in the morning, leaving it as you found it.

Cover up - you don’t want any embarrassing moments. Wear a dressing gown or jumper over a flimsy nightie if you get up to make an early morning cuppa or have breakfast.

If things get difficult

If things are getting a bit fraught, put a bit of space between you. Tell your hosts you’re going out for the day and what time you’ll be back. They’ll probably be desperate for a quiet time, too.

Read our tips for defusing tension at Christmas

When you leave

At the end of your stay make sure you leave the room you have been staying in tidy, and ask if they would like the bed stripped.

Invite your hosts to come to you next time, then send a thank you letter (or at the very least an email or text) when you get home.

When you’re the host

When they arrive

You want your guests to feel relaxed, so be welcoming and make them feel instantly at home.

When they arrive, help them with their luggage, hang up their coats and ask them if they’d like something to eat or drink.

Show them to their room and point out where the bathroom is. Tell them what time you intend to serve lunch/dinner.

Make sure you're both informed

Set aside some time to spend with them, catch up with the gossip over a drink, tell them what’s happening and when over the next few days - and what time you usually eat breakfast (hint, hint).

If the hot water is likely to run out if they take a long bath, do mention it now to avoid resentment later.

Make sure you know when they intend to leave and how – for instance, you may know there are local engineering works which means they can’t travel by rail on certain days.

What to provide

Give each guest two towels – a big one for bathing and showering and a smaller one for drying their hair. A hairdryer in their bedroom is useful, plus a dressing gown each if you can run to it.

Put out fresh soap and travel-sized toiletries in the bathroom, and tell guests they’re welcome to use them.

A bedside lamp with a light that’s bright enough to read by is a must, as is a pile of books and magazines on the bedside table, and a water carafe. Fresh flowers in the bedroom are a lovely extra touch.

If your guest is allergic to pets or to feathers in pillows or duvets, you’ll probably have been told in advance and made arrangements accordingly, but do have some non-drowsy anti-histamine tablets on standby.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.