Traditions of etiquette have been around for centuries. The goals of etiquette are to set standards of behavior for social interactions to avoid conflict and convey respect. When visiting someone's home, demonstrating high standards of behavior can ensure a pleasant visit without imposing on the host. Though traditional etiquette relied on elaborate codes and rules for behavior, modern systems for manners are more closely tied to common-sense behaviors that demonstrate a degree of empathy.
Modern systems of etiquette were developed in 17th century France. King Louis XIV frequently hosted guests in his palace, and serving members of the palace were often concerned about the state of the grounds after guests had left. Members of the house began to post rules, such as "Do not walk on the flowers," as a way of controlling guest behavior to ensure the maintenance of the household. As time went on, increasingly complicated rules and systems of etiquette were developed as a means of distinguishing aristocrats and royalty from the lower classes. In the United States, etiquette was taught in public schools through the 1960s, when rules began to relax. Today, etiquette is based on simple compassion and common sense rather than social class.
House guest etiquette serves several purposes. It primarily protects the host from damage to property or undue stress at incorporating an additional member into the household. A guest who demonstrates proper etiquette also conveys respect for the host's time and property. Adhering to the boundaries of appropriate house guest behavior is one way of showing a host that the guest is grateful for the sacrifices that have been made to accommodate him. Most house guest etiquette is designed to make the experience as seamless and effortless as possible for all parties involved.
Standard etiquette as a house guest begins with presenting the host with an appropriate gift of thanks. Common gifts include wine, specialty food items, flowers or household items like candles or books. A guest should offer help whenever the host is cleaning, preparing a meal, or participating in an activity, but insisting on helping can make the host feel uncomfortable. Guests should always leave bathrooms and bedrooms organized and clean by putting away clothes, making the bed and folding towels. A house guest should not attempt to dictate the timing or content of meals unless there are religious or diet restrictions to consider. By the end of the stay, the guest should leave the house in the same condition it was found when he arrived.
Peggy Post, president of the Emily Post Institute for etiquette, advises house guests to bring their own toiletries while visiting someone's home. "You're not at a hotel," she chides. She also suggests avoiding long showers because many homes have a limited supply of hot water. One of the most grievous offenses a house guest can make, she says, is bringing along an uninvited pet.
While some rules of house guest etiquette are fairly universal, others may vary by culture. General tidiness is an expectation in all countries, while bringing a gift to a home might not be a welcome gesture in every country.
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Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.