Monday, March 7, 2011

Unwritten rules- guests and students

We hosted guests this weekend. They are sweet people but not very savvy, which makes them rather burdensome guests. There are a lot of unwritten/ unspoken rules that this couple either doesn't know or doesn't take seriously. Here are some of the "guest rules" they seemed to break.

1. Please don't stay too long. Even though you took the workday off, we didn't.

2. Realize that you are a burden on the household. If you follow rule #1, then rule #2 usually doesn't come into play.

Our friends have visited several times before, and they always schedule their visit to arrive for a mealtime and depart immediately after a meal. They also never offer to pay for food and never offer to take us out (their treat) as a way to share costs and burden. The last time we went out with them it was assumed to be our treat and we felt taken for granted.

3. Offer to help. See #2.

Our friends have a tendency to sit and watch me bust my butt in the kitchen. I realize there are some cultural issues here. For instance, when I was visiting others in a different culture, I offered to help and apparently offended the host. In that culture, you are suggesting that the host is unable to do their host-ly duties if you offer to help. On the other hand, I come from a culture where you simply don't watch someone else doing work unless they are an actor. It is implicit that when there is work to be done everyone pitches in until it is done, then everyone can relax together. However, I remember a family wedding in which our family paid a lot to fly there, were conscripted to the kitchen the night before to help prepare petit-fours for the reception. My Aunt, the Mother of the Bride, repeatedly criticized our edges, placement, and assembly while we were trying to help. I felt very put-upon in this case. So I can understand that this rule is not universal, but situational.

Another factor here is whether I acted like I wanted no interference, whether I asked for help, or whether I worked silently while steaming about not being asked. I can't testify to whether I was giving off an air of "If I want it done right, I'll do it myself". But I DID ask for a little help here and there (to which the woman did pitch in). I also dropped hints that weren't picked up on, and I probably did a little "silent steaming" .

To be fair, I must also note that often while I was working our guests were playing with the kids. That did make it easier to spend hours in the kitchen preparing their meals, but it did not lessen the number of hours I was in there...

4. Do your part to hold up your end of the conversation.

Our friends asked to come. Nearly demanded. They really wanted to see us. But they are simple people and are terrible conversationalists. The first 4 hours of the visit were me asking some very obvious questions about their lives, family, friends in common, city in common, sports team in common, then weather. They responded in one-phrase answers. How's your Dad? Fine. (awkward silence for a LONG time). Think the Giants will win anything next year? I dunno, I don't pay much attention (awkward silence for a LONG time). The rest of the visit was mostly silence punctuated with my questions as I thought of them. It was very interview-like.

This behavior in the past has made me extremely uncomfortable and set off my escape drive. I have left their place early the last few times I have visited. This time it was better since I was at home and concentrating on an activity, such as oh, cooking (see #2 and #3), the silence wasn't as painful as it has been otherwise. Nonetheless, I asked them to leave early this time, with a (true) excuse about work.

5. Show your gratitude.

I hate insincere compliments. So please, save me the "that was just an amazingly amazing pancake" that is meant to express your gratitude. Just say thank you. Thank your hostess for each BIG thing she does. Thanks for cooking that meal. Thanks for the coffee. Thanks for introducing us to people at church. I (personally) need a bit more than "Thanks for hosting" at the very end of the visit.

6. Take what you are given.

At the end of the visit, the husband decided to help set the breakfast table because he was really hungry. The first thing he said was "Is that all the maple syrup that you have?"

Yes. Eat honey, jelly, or Nutella on your pancakes. I forgot to but syrup on the shopping list. Just deal with it.

7. If you see that your hostess is coming down with a nasty cold during your visit, demand less of her. Offer to go early. Help yourself to the things you need. Maybe even bring her some tea, but mostly back to #3. or #1. Yes, #1.

Lest this be a backstabbing rant against my weekend + guests, I wanted to post a question to you as to some unwritten rules, especially in the universe of higher ed.

Here are some starters:

A. Even if you are chummy with your profs, use correct grammar in correspondence. Your relationship is none-the-less a professional one in the end. Act like it.

B. Office hours are a time we've dedicated to being available to you. Show up to them instead of just dropping by. I understand if you have conflicts, e-mail me for another appointment, no problem. Just try your best to not expand my schedule by coming by anytime you want with your questions.

But don't be afraid to come. When I put my office hours down, I am setting aside that time for you. I am obliged to drop what I am doing to attend to your questions.

C. Formally ask for letters of reference. Don't just drop the address off on my desk without asking 1. whether I can write you a GOOD one and 2. Have the time before the deadline. Ask in person if you can. More here

D. Sure ask about our kids. Chat. I want to get to know you, mostly. But save the long irrelevant stories of your home life for some time when I don't look like I have a deadline looming.

What are YOUR unwritten rules??


  1. First, why are these people your friends? They don't sound like people you want to be friends with.

    Second, as your guest I believe they're off the hook on helping around the house, including in the kitchen. I always feel in the way in someone else's kitchen and hate other people being in my kitchen. And if they're taking care of the kids then that's a good way of being helpful.

  2. Anon 5:25,
    why friends? It's complicated... have you ever been friends with someone with whom you do one thing very well (your biking buddy, scrapbook friends)? In addition, though not great guests, they are loyal and true pen-pals etc. There's a lot of guilt involved in this friendship (a bit lopsided) and I have continual angst about it.

    Kitchen? yeah, I can really see your point, thanks.

  3. Second, as your guest I believe they're off the hook on helping around the house, including in the kitchen. I always feel in the way in someone else's kitchen and hate other people being in my kitchen.

    I second this sentiment. I don't tolerate anyone in my kitchen (not even my husband). I also don't expect house guests to help; it's a mini vacation for them, so I am happy to indulge them. I guess this goes with my understanding of being the hostess -- it is inconvenient. It's only very very very close friends with whom I am OK if they help around. Otherwise -- sit back and relax and don't butt in.

    Regarding your house guests, you do sound a bit harsh. It really sounds like you didn't want them at your house in the least. Actually, you do sound like you don't like them at all (you refer to them as "simple", etc.) I wonder if they are uncomfortable when they visit, they must have picked up on the vibes. Unless one of them gave you a kidney or you owe them money or something similar, forget the guilt, just cut them loose...

    Regarding students in one's class (especially undergrads): unless the teacher explicitly tells you to call them by their first name, never assume it is OK. Prof. Lastname or Dr. Lastname is universally acceptable.

  4. Anon 6:28. It does sounds harsh, doesn't it? Yikes. Hub said it was a good weekend. I wonder what my big beef is. See, until I figure out what's wrong with ME, I shouldn't let them go, cause that's not fair to them.

  5. Don't be so hard on yourself. Venting is what blog posts are for! Sounds like a frustrating and tiring weekend, which is extra hard when weekends are so valuable - especially with a commuter marriage. Hope your cold isn't too bad and that you were able to recover and have some fun this weekend!