House guest or house pest?

If you live anywhere within fifty kilometers from the coast, whether it be Margate, Cape Town or Hondeklipbaai, chances are that your extended family will suddenly remember you as the Christmas holidays approach.

Let’s face it, who can afford to rent holiday flats or put everyone up in a hotel or guesthouse for three weeks?

Which is all very well, unless you are the one who chose to live within striking distance of the Big Deep.

Just as you settle down on your stoep with a gin and tonic to unwind after a heavy year, who should drive up, but Uncle Boet, his wife Sally, their three sulky adolescents and the family yapper. Surprise! Indeed. Of the kind you’d get if you opened a parcel and found a spitting cobra inside.

Handling summer house guests

You are under no obligation to put up with anyone who does not have the decency to speak to you beforehand to find out if you are amenable to the idea. The only reason they did not ask is because they were scared you might say no. You can do that now. Tell them you are going away and have rented out your house. Mentioning that other people are coming to stay won’t put off the truly thick-skinned. Who knows, they might even have brought their tent in case of something like this happening?

When you invite people, never issue an open-ended invitation. Say something like “We would really like it if you could come to us for a week after the New Year, before we go on our hiking trip.”

Make it clear to your guests, especially if it is a large group of people, that you are not going to run a fulltime entertainment programme. This can be done in many ways. Picture this: you wake up in the morning, frazzled and exhausted after traipsing through tourist attractions in 30 degree heat the previous day, and you find them sitting in a row in the sitting room. Someone says, “So what are we going to do today?” There is only one answer: “Today I am going to lie in my bed and then wash the dishes. What are you going to do today?”

Everyone has to pitch in when it comes to buying groceries and doing household chores. There is no reason why you should spend your Christmas bonus on feeding your niece’s boyfriend that you have never seen before. It is different if someone comes to stay for a day or two, but to feed a crowd for three weeks could be extremely expensive. Smile nicely and give them a shopping list. Ask people directly to do specific household chores. You are not an unpaid slave for the convenience of others.

Don’t fall into the trap of cooking daily lavish feasts. You will find yourself doing little else for the full duration of their stay. Fresh fruit, sandwiches and braais can go along way to making your life easier.

Take time out for yourself. Organise a few other activities for yourself, away from your guests. Tell them about these in advance.

Get a char to help you out over this time, otherwise you could end up not having any rest yourself.

Remember it is your house, and your rules apply. If your children are not allowed to jump on the couches or play with the Hi-Fi, then neither may the children who are visiting. Put your foot down, or lose your sanity. Your routine is also the most important one and you should not feel forced to change it completely.

Being a good houseguest

Always make some contribution. Buy groceries and make an effort to help with the housework, which has probably doubled because of your presence.

Buy your hosts a nice present. Remember you are saving a fortune by not having to pay for your accommodation.

Tip their char when you leave. Your being there has given her double the normal workload.

Give your guests a break. If you stay for a long time, go away somewhere else in the middle of your stay to give your hosts a break. Entertain yourself for part of the time and go off on your own. Don’t sit and wait to be entertained.

Pay for your telephone calls. Unless you never want to be invited again, leave them a phone bill of R500.

Be considerate.Not everyone thinks your toddlers and your two Chihuahuas are charming and cute.

Be tidy. Do more than your share. If your hosts have to pick up constantly behind you, they will get very irritated.

Thank them properly once you have left. A card is always a good idea.

(Susan Erasmums, Health24, October 2006)

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