Monday, June 27, 2011

Practicing Hospitality

This message came into the inbox yesterday from "Heidi," a wonderful and talented former student of mine who is seeking a little advice as she opens her home to visiting cyclists coming through her town.

Dear Ride Bikes, Drink Coffee:
This summer I have opened my home to touring cyclists via the website. I've hosted a few people, but none specifically through that service just yet. At the moment, I am hosting two "friends" passing through on their cross-continent bike tour. Because my guest room only has a twin bed, I have switched bedrooms so they could sleep in a bed, based on advice my delightful, patience-of-a-saint high school choir teacher gave when we were doing home stays so many years ago. This clearly impressed one of my coworkers when I mentioned it to her, but apparently my going-the-extra-mile has not meant much to my guests.
This is the second time I've hosted them, and both times they have descended on me as if they owned the place. Every conceivable flat surface has their belongings strewn about (pretty impressive considering they're living out of panniers!). Books get taken out of bookshelves and then not put back. The two stacks of paper I have (which are organized) are fair game to their curious fingers. The main offender has ADD, and claims that having everything out where she can see it is essential for her to find things. Since there are two of them and only one of me, and I am not used to a living situation with more than just me, I've been trying my best to grin and bear it for the few days that they are here.
The last time they visited me, in the fall (when I was living in another city), a friend suggested that I do what I need to do to get through their visit without choking them. (What that meant was that I didn't spend a lot of time with my guests.) This time, they never actually *asked* if they could stay with me, it was just kind of assumed until they emailed me with their arrival date. They've now been here less than 24 hours, but I'm already feeling like I need to just keep to myself in order to avoid lashing out.
Do you have any advice? It seems like all the articles online about how to be a good houseguest specifically note that treating your host's house like a hotel is frowned upon, and keeping things tidy is the hallmark of a desirable guest. Do I continue emulating my dear high school choir teacher and putting their needs before mine? Can I say no if they ask to stay with me in the future, and not damage the "friendship?"
"Heidi Anspacher"
Dear HA:
Your former choir teacher is feeling awfully proud of you for practicing hospitality, and for reaching out to the cycling community!
Don’t let two riders sour your experience as a host. You will encounter every kind of guest, and most of them will be wonderful. This pair is not representative of most of the people you’re likely to meet! It's a good early opportunity to learn from their visit inside your home, however, and take what you’ve learned and apply it to your way of hosting others.  In a way, this is a “teachable moment” for the parameters you would like to set. It might also inform how to re-organize your space a little differently so there’s your space and their space. Think about how you will set the tone for your home when people stay: As you greet your visitors, what will you say to them so they clearly understand the norms and expectations at the HA home. If people are going to stay with you, it can’t end up costing you the headaches, frustration, time, etc.
I’d suggest you muster up the courage to confront the situation with your current guests if they're still there. Once they’re gone and you look back on their visit, you’ll be glad you did.  My bet is they’ll either become better guests, or they won’t darken your door again.  Either way you win.
Perhaps saying something like, “I’m really interested in opening my home when other cyclists come through, and I’m realizing that I’ll need to be more clear with them than I’ve been with you about what means.” Then you go about describing what area of your home you've set aside for them to use, and which things in your home are off limits to them. ADD does not give one permission to impose their messiness on you during a homestay.
Clearly, your current guests don’t have much experience practicing gracious visitation, and that’s too bad. They’re missing out on the better parts of the whole experience of sharing space and making friends along the journey.  Granted, long-haul cyclists spend countless hours on the sides of the road, where road debris, dead animals, and the flotsam and jetsam of vehicle traffic all tend to collect. They’re used to things being a bit messy. But that in no way gives them the right to leave their manners behind when somebody opens their home to them.

All the best to you, HA!

1 comment:

bikelovejones said...

Houseguests, even friends and maybe *especially* friends -- who don't respect personal space, clean up after themselves or otherwise behave as though they're guests in -- get this -- *someone else's* home, should be gently told that they need to be more respectful if they want to enjoy another visit.

While I think it's great to provide hospitality there's no reason for the host to be treated like a doormat or otherwise be taken advantage of. Touring cyclists often have other options so don't be afraid to make the parameters of their visit clear -- including picking after yourself and *asking* for accommodation well in advance of the visit. These are not unreasonable expectations for positive adult behavior. and clarity will help everyone have a smoother experience overall.