'Tis the season when we start hosting people traveling through Jo'burg to Zambia. We love to have people come and stay at our house. Especially people we know, so we can catch up on what's been going on at home.
While we've never had someone stay here that's been an obnoxious snot, I'm sure some of you have. Whether it's a family member, or someone you're hosting to be a help to your church, some people just don't know how to behave when they stay in another person's home. So today I thought I would do us all a favor, and lay some ground rules for being a good house guest.
1. Don't make food an issue.
Any good hostess will contact you before your arrival and ask if there are any foods you are allergic to. It's part of making a person feel welcome. However, they may not ask what you'd like to eat. Not every hostess feels like taking requests. Maybe on the foreign field they don't have a lot of money. Be thankful for what food you are served, because remember: they didn't have to let you stay.
And while we're at it, let's talk about portion control, shall we? Maybe at home for breakfast you eat six eggs. And ten pieces of bacon. And four pieces of toast. If so, you're a glutton and need to change your eating habits. But when you're in someone else's home, don't ask for more food if it hasn't been offered. Remember your manners. A good way to do that well is to be satisfied with what you're given. Missionaries often have tight budgets and are used to making their food stretch, but not far enough for gluttons.
2. Offer to bring them things from home, or surprise them with something.
All the missionaries I know would never expect people who are visiting to bring them something. However, it's nice to ask your hostess if there's anything she misses from home that she would like you to bring. Some foreign fields have everything America has. Others have practically nothing. Since they're doing you a favor by hosting you, do one for them as well and bring them stuff.
3. Give them some money to cover expenses.
Offer your host(s) compensation for their expenses. Chances are you're not the only person they'll be hosting during the year, and over time their costs add up. You use their water and electricity, food, and maybe they had to rent a trailer or something for your luggage. It's only polite to offer to reimburse them. Remember- they've saved you the cost of a hotel and buying dinner in a restaurant. Don't ask something like: "Do I owe you anything for staying here?" They will un-doubtedly say "No." Instead say "I would like to help out, since I know things aren't free. What do you think is a reasonable amount for me to contribute?" If they say "Just give what you think is right." then don't assume 50 cents a day will cover their costs. Be generous. If you don't know what that means, email me and I'll help you out.
4. If staying for an extended period, learn to be by yourself sometimes.
If you're staying in someone's home for longer than a week, don't expect to be entertained every minute of the day. There is nothing more exhausting than a visitor who always wants to chat about something, or play a game, or stand around and watch you do whatever it is you're doing, when all you (as host) want to do is rest or be left alone. Especially if it's a busy time, (and you're not the only guest in their house) plan on your host(s) retiring to their room at times for a break. DO NOT knock on the door to ask them a question. Wait until they come out.
5. Be helpful during your stay.
Surely if you're visiting for a long while, your host (at some point) will stop by the grocery store on the way home from somewhere. Don't be a slug, offer to help carry in bags. And if they have a garage without an opener, offer to open the garage door for them. (Since you won't be the one driving.) Make your bed every day, and don't leave your stuff lying around.
6. Don't expect to use the internet every day. Or at all.
Here in SA, we are limited to 3GB a month. We pay about sixty dollars for that when the exchange rate is 10-1. (Right now it's 8.6 which is a bummer.) In America, you have unlimited internet. You can download as many things as you like, and upload as much as you want. Not all countries are the same, and to expect to use the internet (for more than letting family know you're safe) could turn out to be a great inconvenience for your host(s). Especially if they do a lot of bill paying online, and you eat up their internet writing on facebook, or something else un-necessary, it could cause problems. Be considerate. Live without the internet for the duration of your stay. (Unless of course they ask you if you'd like to use it. Then feel free.)
7. Do NOT say that something the country you're visiting does is stupid because it's different than the way things are done in America.
Let me tell you a little secret: Americans don't know everything. Now that we've established that fact and we all agree it's true (we all agree, don't we?) let me expound. Things in Africa are not perfect by any means, but every country has a way of doing things that works for them. Some countries are efficient and well-planned, with highway systems and trains, etc. Some aren't. If you see something you think could be done better, keep it to yourself. And for pity's sake don't offend someone who's from the country you're visiting by asking them why their country is so stupid. You'll prove yourself to be the jerk you are.
8. If you break something, replace it, or offer to replace it.
Be honest. Remember, they didn't have to let you stay in their home. If you made a mistake and broke something, let them know. Especially if you're staying in your own room that they don't come into often. Don't try and hide it, or act like you didn't do it. Be upfront and offer to replace it. Them finding out on their own later is NOT good for your reputation.
9. Don't expect to be taken around like a tourist
Going cool places in any country costs money. Do not expect your host(s) to pay your way, or be able to go everywhere you want to go. If you are staying for a while, your host(s) may try to make plans to do some special things with you. However, do not expect them to cart you around all over the country to see/do whatever you want. If you're not the only guest in their house, they will be tired. Respect that. While it may be alright to ask, (since maybe they didn't think of doing what you desire) it is definitely NOT alright to be upset when they say no.
And let me just add that it's not cool to email someone if you can come visit and have them take you around like a tourist. Especially if you've never asked about their ministry. Or if it's someone you "kinda" know, but haven't talked to in a while, (like more than four years). That's just rude. Missionaries are WAY too busy to play host(ess) to people who are not interested in their ministry. You cannot expect missionaries to host you for a free vacation. Definitely not cool.
10. Do not tell your host: "I'm coming back again next year!"
Wait to be invited. Maybe you were an obnoxious snot. Or maybe you ate them out of house and home. Or maybe they have plans for someone else to visit the next year. Do not impose on their hospitality and assume you are welcome back. Perhaps this was a one-time deal and they don't plan on doing it again next year. Whatever the circumstances, don't assume their home will be open to you whenever you get the itch to travel. Wait to be invited back.
Think that's pretty thorough? I'm not speaking from past bad experiences, I promise. (Some are from close friend's experiences though!) Anything I missed? Anything you think is way off base? Let me know, and we'll all learn together.