Afternoon Inquisition

Afternoon Inquisition 1.13

I’m spending this week as a houseguest, and my hosts could not be any more accommodating and gracious.   Nonetheless, normally try to keep in mind that idea that “houseguests are like fresh fish… no matter how much you love them, they still start to stink up the place after 3 days.”  (Or something like that.  I’m not saying I’m not showering while I’m here, because I totally will.  I haven’t yet, but I will. I swear.) (Note to self:  shower today.)

What are your thoughts on houseguests*?  How long is too long?  What are your favorite things about being a guest or host?  Least favorite?  Advice for the rest of us?

*If you’re feeling particularly Skepchick-y, also let me know how you handle it if your hosts offer up non-rational kinds of things like aromatherapy candles, or earnestly discuss their horoscope over breakfast.


A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. I can’t abide houseguest. What with my imaginary friend and the family of gypsies that lives in my attic, there just isn’t room.

    But seriously, I usually don’t like to have guests for too long, and I make a point of not being a guest myself for too long. I try to be considerate of others’ space, and as long as folks are attempting to be considerate of mine, I’ll put up with them for a little longer. It’s those asswipes that have no clue that they’re all up in your business that I really want out.

  2. I tend to be uncomfortable with the whole houseguest thing, either as the guest or host. Even under the best circumstances, someone’s normal routine is being disrupted.

    My favorite houseguest would be my sister, who has a knack for making herself at home without being intrusive. My least favorite would be, let’s call them Bob and Emily, who would insist that they didn’t want to be a bother, and would then proceed to do just that.

    On the subject of horoscopes, I usually reply, “Well, I’m a Scorpio so naturally I don’t believe in such things.”

  3. We just had a houseguest for 3 weeks. He is leaving at the end of this week. He was great as he cooked us dinner a few times (including buying the ingrediants and cleaning up the dishes). He was very quiet. He was very neat. Actually, he could stay much longer and be welcome as we never felt we had to “entertain” him. Gifts are great. A good bottle of wine if that is what they like. Always ask before cooking and such… because people are very territorial about their kitchens and stuff.

    I like company! But I also like it when they cook!

    I tend to put my skeptic lectures on hold…especially when I’m the guest. I try to keep things like “oh well, I just don’t believe in that” about horoscopes and such. If people ask more I just say, “I just like science more. ” or “you know me, I’m a skeptic! But it sure is fun to read those horoscopes sometimes.” (I can honestly say this as when my daughter got Teen Vogue I never missed reading the horoscopes… boy were those funny!

    As a guest, it’s part of the payment that you don’t argue with your guests.

    Now when my mom comes to stay! I did at the end of her week get into a fight with her when she was loudly complaining about “FAT PEOPLE” in a restaurant. (she’s slightly deaf and speaks rather loudly). I wasn’t going to take on her unskeptical views about FAT PEOPLE, I was simply fed up and told her that it was very hard for me to be around someone so negative all the time. I also mentioned that I have a lot of fat friends (Fat being anyone not Victoria Beckham in my moms opinion) and that I was fat and since I was paying for dinner, we weren’t talking about fat people anymore. I’m not saying I handled it well, but it was the end of a week… and I just lost it. She wasn’t happy about it, but hey, when she pays for dinner, she can talk about FAT PEOPLE all she wants. But she can talk all day and I’m not going to agree with her views.

  4. Due to an overflow of books in the living room, I moved my skeptical bookshelf (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, Onfray, Stenger, etc.) into the guest room…sort of an anti-Gideon kind of thing.

    No one ever asks if we’re getting up early on Sunday to go to church!

  5. I really like living alone and hate houseguests aside from the occasional drunk friend or my family visiting for short weekends. I once had a friend live with me (on my couch) for 4 months and while he was an okay houseguest (about as okay as any other 24 year old male stoner, anyway), I was glad to see him go.

    I really, really, really like being alone. A lot.

    I like being a houseguest for like, a night, but then I want to go home because I like being home. Alone.

  6. It depends who they are. I often can’t be bothered to play host, so I like houseguests who just make themselves at home. My sister and bro-in-law could stay a week and I’d be happy. My mom annoys me after an hour, she tends to be lacking in the manners department which drives me mad. Friends, it depends. The main issue is that I work all the time so having houseguests either eats into working time, or forces me to be rude because I have to finish a project.

    I’m mostly a small doses person but would never refuse a bed to a friend who was passing through town. I couldn’t do a week though, with the exceptions of my sis and maybe one or two best friends.

  7. House guests come in two flavors.

    Relatives from the UK and Australia who spend lots of money to travel can stay for a long time with every reasonable accommodation. This mostly involves my three brother in laws and my in laws. They’re good company and we spend significant time with them when traveling. There’s lots of Christianity that comes with these relatives and some woo but I just ignore it and try my very best to keep mouth shut.

    Local friends and relatives, no problem for short stays but a couple three nights tops if they have kids.

    My son is 18 and my daughter is 15 and if their friends are included as house guests I suppose there are house guests spending the night just about every week. No problem and sometimes I’d rather have them here than my kids there.

  8. Oh and I have a few books about atheism and of course their covers exclaim it loudly. My family, most of whom are pretty religious, have visited. No comments. They are pretty open-minded and/or don’t really care. (My mom probably just doesn’t notice, since she doesn’t notice things unless they directly effect her.)

  9. They stink like fish after three days? So what are you alluding to about carr2d2 & I when we your house-guests last December? ;) hehe, you know I love you A.

    In regards to length of time, I think it completely depends on the chemistry of guest and host. As long as there is total communication and respect, a stay at one’s house can be wonderful.

    Least favourite time when I was a guest at someone’s house has to be when I went on a band trip to Bismarck and I had to stay with a Mormon family that had some freakish obsession with potatoes (as in potatoes made into decorations, in every room). Seriously, you try sleeping in a bed at a crazy Mormon potato family’s house for a week. BTW, I have nothing against Mormons or Potatoes (except Stephenie Meyer, who has about as much talent as a potato, but thats another story)

    There are so many good times and memories of recent stays with friends: like seeing Christian and Maria bribe their dogs to come inside with cheese, or having three consecutive full breakfasts with ARealGuy, or waking up in Dawlish England to the sounds of crashing waves outside the windows. These and so much more are what life is all about, experiencing and living.

  10. This is a hilarious coincidence because I’m currently a house guest at my aunt’s for 7 more weeks (already been a week) for a fieldwork placement for school. I have no car or anything so I constantly feel like a burden for drives from everyone I work with. I’m in my poor cousin’s room who was supposed to be out west working by now, so it wouldn’t have been a problem but now there’s been a delay. Etc. And there’s 7 more weeks of this! :) And I’m in a relatively rural area so I hear pounds of woo and religiosity on a daily basis.

    I think all I can do is keep my head down and stick it out.

  11. I like small doses of playing host. I live alone, and though I like living alone, it’s nice to break things up once in awhile. I think waking up in the morning with company over is the test. With some guests, or just some moods, that’s a huge pain in the ass. But on the good days, it’s nice to wake up with company and share even a poorly made meal. Any woo that comes up I’ll give a polite, and probably brief, challenge. Asking simple things like “so how do you think that would work?” is usually a good start. If I’m the guest, probably the same thing. Maybe I’m not the best guest.

  12. I usually feel pretty awkward in social situations to begin with, and it gets compounded when I’m staying at someone’s house. (I rarely have people over to my house, even for short periods…I have this completely irrational insecurity about it. Oh, and it’s a complete mess.)

    I think, for most people, the whole houseguest-host dynamic has less to do with general “how long is too long” ideas and more with the actual people involved. For example, I recently spent a few days with some friends in Texas, and (while I can’t speak for them) I wouldn’t have minded at all if my stay had been extended. On the other hand, I once spent a few days with an Orthodox Jewish family on an Israeli moshav–while they were perfectly nice people, it was a bit weird and I couldn’t wait to get out.

    I think we all have our tolerances, and our attitude towards people staying in our homes likely reflects more our feelings about those people, rather than having our “space” encroached upon.

  13. Nine days is about as long as I can abide houseguests or being a houseguest. Any longer than that and I feel that rent is due. An ideal stay is three or four days, with the first and third being primarily centered around getting there and getting away.

  14. It all depends on the people involved. My sister in law has been staying with us (note: in a separate guest house) for almost 2 years and it’s been great. OTOH, my brother in law, who is very religious and very vocal about it, can wear out his welcome in about an hour.

  15. The worst house guest that shows up is this Jesus character. He waltzes in our house all the time with friends, families, and annoying door-to-door missionaries.

    Once he’s there, he won’t leave until we’ve confessed our sins or nailed him to a cross.

  16. In my 20s houseguestiness was a fact of life, I was always crashing at someone’s house or they at mine. Now that I’m in my 30s, I really really like my space; we usually get a hotel if we’re visiting someone else, and if we have visitors we get cranky after a few days and start bickering. If we can do it politely, we try to limit overnight guests to 3 days.

    I like aromatherapy candles, which are just “nice-smelling candles” to me and I like it when things smell nice; wasn’t aware it was against Skepchick rules to like pretty-smelling things. I don’t have to buy into any b.s. to enjoy lavender.

    If someone reads their horoscope I make fun of them (gentle tease if I like them, less gentle if I don’t). I do this all the time. I also tell Julia Sweeney’s story from Letting Go of God, how she thought she was a Virgo until her mom said she’d lied about her birthday, and she was actually a Libra. “I was SUCH a Virgo,” she said, “But when I went to buy the new Libra poster I discovered I was SUCH a Libra!”

    I keep all my subversive books in my guest room: The God Delusion, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, Parenting Beyond Belief …

  17. Definitely depends on the person. We have what we call seasonal roommates who come down from Washington every spring. Their stay gets longer every year. This year it’s 2 months, with a week break when they go to visit o friend in New Orleans. We get along with them in our house ridiculously well. When they leave it’s bittersweet…glad to have the house back to ourselves, but sad they’re gone. And they are pretty damn non-woo.

    I don’t recall having a houseguest who was wooish. Staying with the inlaws, always involves some woo. Every once in a while we try to have a conversation about these topics, but they are not the type to believe you could possibly know anything they don’t. It gets stupid, so gritting teeth and bearing it seems to really be the best policy.

    I went to school in England for a semester of school and stayed with a family in which the father had been a rabid and unreasonable atheist, wandered into a tent meeting (yeah, I don’t get it either), and ended up a charismatic Church of Christ-er. So he was constantly trying to convert me. That was obnoxious and horrible. There was no avoiding the subject, since he brought it up specifically to get me to discuss it with him. blech.

  18. @Steve: Likewise I answer with, “I’m a libra, so I can see both sides, and after carefully analyzing both sides I can see that it is utter-nonsense. “

  19. I’ve only ever had a couple of houseguests of my own (as opposed to the guests who I consider my parents’). Both times they were close friends; one stayed overnight and the other stayed for about a week. With the latter I felt a bit awkward because he was really my boyfriend’s friend, the boyfriend worked all day, and I have a tendency to sleep late (I was unemployed at the time), so I felt bad that he was kind of stuck by himself for long periods. He was also pretty much flat broke, so we were feeding him and spotting him a little cash to do things like go to music shows. We didn’t grudge him this, but I think he felt bad about not at least taking us out for dinner.
    I have trouble staying at other people’s houses. I’m a fairly solitary person with eccentric habits, like showering at two AM, so extended contact with someone who lives very differently is tough. It’s mitigated somewhat when it’s a person I know well and we can separate for a few hours a day. I also often feel weird about people disrupting their schedules and routines for my sake. As such I prefer to stay a maximum of three nights, and two is better.

  20. I think 3 days is the max for hosting/guesting. It’s a visit, a couple late nights, and then move on. Even then, I expect people not to be locked up at the place the whole time and live their lives.

    As far as bringing up things like astrology, or non-skeptic stuff, I usually just let it go if it’s a passing comment. But if they’re insistent, I’ll gently work phrases like “I remember an article on Google news that said (insert scientific evidence here). ”

    I used to keep copies of “The Demon-Haunted World” (like $5 used on Amazon or eBay) on hand to give door-to-door Jehova’s witnesses, Mormons, and hippies. I recommed the same for unruly house guests. An educational hint to wtfu in the form of a gift!

  21. My grandma used to always say the same thing. “Fish stink after three day!” We could never get her to stay longer. I think it’s a smart maxim, it always leaves people wanting you to come back, and it’s something I’ve adopted.

  22. I live alone with five-thousand books in no particular order or no particular spot on the floor. Friends are welcome to stay, but they are generally uncomfortable by my carrying a large double-bit axe around with me while in the house. Hey, we all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies. Some folks never abandoned their blankee, their favorite doll—I have an axe. HAR!

    It would seem we are used to a household routine. When jolted from that routine, like staying in a strange household we get uncomfortable. Strange bed, strange surroundings, strange noises, strange smells. All of our senses are bombarded with unfamiliar signals and it is stressful in the short-term.

    For the host, it can be a welcome novelty or a nightmare. The host is acclimated and comfortable with everything but the guest/s. If the guest is not obnoxious, agressive and leaving a huge footprint everywhere with their presence, yeah, three days is easy. After that, bring out the axe.

  23. Marilove:

    I really, really, really like being alone. A lot.

    Same here. Alone time is very good.

    I don’t have enough room in my current place to put other people up, and the only time I stay with other people is when I’m using my relatives in other cities as an alternative to hotel accommodation.

  24. My favourite regular house-guest is my mother. She cooks, she cleans, she pays for everything, she entertains the kids and one day she’ll be too old to fly over here on her own so I try to appreciate her while I’ve got her.

    I can’t say I’ve ever had a guest outstay their welcome, but we’ve rarely had anyone else for more than one night.

  25. Most people can stay for as long as they want. Although given that I’ve yet to leave home I’ve also yet to have anyone to stay on my own terms for any length of time. My mum gets annoyed with any of my guests after about 24 hours. As other people have stated, it depends on the person. Some of my longest-standing friends are not people I could live with for more than a few days.
    As for guesting, again it depends on the person. I used to spend most of my school holidays (days and nights) at a friend’s place. As long as I don’t feel like I’m putting the person out and we’re still getting along, I feel like it’s ok. But I prob wouldn’t stay much past a week with most people.
    As for the woo question, this is one of the main reasons I find it very difficult to stay with my dad for any length of time these days. His new wife is into it all – homeopathy, anti-vax, astrology, reincarnation, everything. And it’s rubbed off on my dad too. The last time I stayed there I managed to start an almost-argument with the wife after like two hours about the safety of microwave ovens (she basically doesn’t believe in the scientific method). And it was only almost because I took a deep breath and walked away before I called her stupid or started yelling lol (I am growing up!) after a few days it tends to make my brain begin to implode lol. With most other people the woo isn’t quite as concentrated so I can deal with it by changing the subject.

  26. @Steve:

    I don’t think that disrupting routine is a bad thing, it can be a bad thing, but with the right guest or hosts it should fun, otherwise it isn’t worth.

    I am a very social person, I like to be with my friends, and I hope they do like to be with me also, so I would take any of them as a guest for a time (*).

    *) I would say that depending on how close we are this time should be at most 4 weeks.

  27. /*What are your thoughts on houseguests*? How long is too long? What are your favorite things about being a guest or host? Least favorite? Advice for the rest of us?

    *If you’re feeling particularly Skepchick-y, also let me know how you handle it if your hosts offer up non-rational kinds of things like aromatherapy candles, or earnestly discuss their horoscope over breakfast.*/

    Guests! People in the house besides My wife daughter and Me. Love them but with all good things there are disruptions. We often have my wife’s cousin staying a couple days here and there. It is good in general and it is strange to have someone in the house more cynical than I am about the world. Problem is the woman never stops talking, ever so two days seems the limit.
    On the other hand a friend Tim stays when doing jobs in eastern MA, he is a Storyteller and musician and we have great conversation and at times get him to play, he can stay as long as he wants.
    So I guess it depends on the person.

    Now when it comes to non-rational conversation I always give my skeptical two cents but with my wife believing in everything from homeopathy to chakras to detoxification I love to have another person in the conversation just for the change of pace.


  28. I’m with @csrster – mom is the best houseguest (also mothers-in-law).

    My other houseguest experiences have varied – some friends have been great. One friend, though, who’s stayed with us a few times, is more of a problem – he’s very neat and can cook, but he’s also kind of neurotic and into every kind of woo. So you come home from work and have to talk to him about his problems AND how his psychic astrologer is helping him.

  29. My parents, god love ’em, are great houseguests.

    Because early in their marriage, neither set of parents thought it was weird to drop by unannounced and hang out all day (they all lived fairly close). As such, my parents value their childrens’ privacy. If anything, I wish they would stay at least one more day on their occasional trips.

    I don’t generally mind most houseguests, but my BIL is banned from the house. To sum up he:

    * invited himself to our new house in front of his family, where us telling him “no” meant we would have been abused for not allowing him to come

    * when he arrived, he asked if I could “wash a few things”, and handed me the entire cigarette-smoke infested contents of his luggage (I actually had to run two hot loads with bleach to get the smell out of the new washer)

    * declared himself exhausted (even though he had a part time job and lived at home being waited on by my husband’s grandmother) and spent a good 1/3 of the trip napping in the middle of our living area

    * When awake, we drove him around to see the sights (entry fees and all), took him out to meals, or stayed in and cooked large, excellent ones. He never offered to pay once for anything.

    * asked to check his e-mail, and ended up spending several hours on my computer – used for my business – IMing with friends, downloading games and introducing several lovely viruses into my system.

    * and despite the weather being good, the multiple sliding glass doors onto deck and patio, and us having specifically bought patio furniture (we hadn’t been planning on it, having other furniture to buy) and ashtrays, he couldn’t rouse himself out of bed to smoke outside. He smoked in bed, and put out the cigarettes in the new night table drawers (I’m not saying he deposited butts … I’m saying he crushed the cigarettes out in the drawers). It took massive laundering, much baking-soda and Febreeze to get the cigarette smell out of our basement, and I still count our blessings he didn’t fall asleep with a lit cigarette in hand.

    House guest from hell, that one.

  30. Oh yeah, forgot…

    My husband dropped him off at our small, local airport on his way to work when it was time for him to go. I got a call about 1 hour before his flight – without even saying “hello”, he informed me he left his phone charger here…and let it hang with a pregnant pause. I continued with “and?”… and he wanted me to bring it to him.

    Because you don’t actually go through security at our little, one-gate regional airport until right before you board, so I could have actually brought the charger to him…*if* I hung up the phone, ran downstairs, grabbed the charger, threw on some sweats, jumped in the car and sped over there.

    However, I told him I’d drop it in the mail that morning. I could hear how stunned he was over the phone that he wasn’t being catered to. Guess the service at this family-run hotel wasn’t up to snuff for him ;)

  31. As Benjamin Franklin used to say, “Guests and fish stink after three days.” A long weekend is enough for most people.

    However, someone who is here carrying his/her weight is welcome to stay longer, even if it’s someone that is teaching me, say, how to use a home astronomical telescope properly.

    However, having four noisy, active Shelties (sometimes more with foster dogs) and three cats is something that they have to cheerfully live with. Otherwise there are a few nice hotels just up the road. And, no, I’m not paying.

    @pkitty: I have a sign on my front door that says:
    “Please, absolutely NO: door to door sales people, religious witnessing or preaching,
    surveys, donation requests or political campaigning.”

    It works pretty well for the most part. Those that disobeyed it have been few enough that we have no problem disposing of the remains. :-D

  32. If you follow these tips, you’ll get a reputation for being a charming houseguest:

    1. Bring a host/hostess gift. Good wine is nice. If they make noises about opening it now, demur and say, “Oh, I brought that for you to enjoy as a treat when the mood strikes you.”

    2. Wash all your dishes immediately. Actually, wash all the dishes, without being asked.

    3. Pick up the tab at the grocery store or at restaurants. If they’d enjoy it, cook them dinner. If you get any vibes about them not wanting their kitchen invaded, back off.

    4. Give them an out so they don’t feel they have to entertain you constantly (this saves your sanity, too). Bring your reading material/knitting/whatever. After a day or so, or when it seems right, say, “I’m going to let you have some privacy – I know your daily routine doesn’t stop just because I’m here. If you don’t mind, I’m going to do some quiet reading/take a walk, etc.”

    4. Strip the bedclothes when you leave and put them in the laundry hamper.

    5. Send a handwritten thank you note in the mail (no, email is not OK). If they’ve really gone out of their way, enclosing a gift certificate for a spa day or something like that is always nice.

    Have fun being a houseguest!

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