Uncommon Courtesies
November 28, 2011 12:46 PM   Subscribe

In the last Roderick on the Line, John says that he always gets a houseguest a glass of water, before they ask - because 9 times out of 10, someone always loves a glass of water. I love this idea. What are some low-key courtesies you extend or have had extended to you by friends, romantic partners, suitors, etc. that show someone you're thinking about their needs and general comfort?

It's top of mind for me right now because I'm in the very early stages of dating a woman I'd really like to floor with kindness, but I'm interested as a general organizing principle for my life more generally. Tips for all sorts of settings work, but I'm particularly interested in the sorts of things you do when you invite someone to your home. Again, more about the little things than the big ones. Thanks!
posted by Apropos of Something to Human Relations (55 answers total) 174 users marked this as a favorite
Make sure there is plenty of toilet paper and a clean hand towel.
And wipe the pee drops off the toilet seat...always a classy touch.
posted by ian1977 at 12:49 PM on November 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I offer people a chance to take off their shoes. This is in contrast to both many American households I have been in, wherein taking off one's shoes is seen as odd, and the Russian households I grew up in, wherein not taking off your shoes is offensive. Said Russian households, however, always have guest slippers (I do not.)
posted by griphus at 12:52 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make sure that there are blankets available if it's that time of year.
posted by sacrifix at 12:54 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

first think I do is offer people a drink, listing all the available choices so they can have something that they like and that I have on hand.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:55 PM on November 28, 2011

If I'm expecting them ahead of time I warn them that we have cats. Lots of people are allergic and this gives them a chance to take some meds or decline the invite.
posted by bondcliff at 12:58 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: What are some low-key courtesies you extend or have had extended to you by friends, romantic partners, suitors, etc. that show someone you're thinking about their needs and general comfort?

One of the most important things to remember is that many times your guest won't feel comfortable accepting your courtesies if you're not also participating in them, or it would cause you to go to extra trouble. So, if you have a bowl of chocolates out, she may not take one if you don't take one first. If you offer to make tea, she may not accept, but if the tea is already on and you're getting ready to pour yourself a cup, then she will. Remember that.
posted by cairdeas at 1:00 PM on November 28, 2011 [53 favorites]

If you are having an overnight houseguest, it is very nice to have a little basket of individual toiletries (soap, shampoo, conditioner, razor & shaving cream, toothpaste & brush, etc) like one might find at a hotel. It can be left on their bed (if they are staying in a spare room) or in the bathroom if they are... more intimate.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:01 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Basically the same as your post, but when people sleep over, a bottle of water on their nightstand. my boyfriend often brings me hot water and puts it on my nighstand.
posted by gt2 at 1:01 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If people are coming over for a meal, I make sure to have a little food out right away when they get there as a snack. It can be tiny, even just chips/salsa, crackers/hummus, etc. But I've found that usually people arrive hungry, and sitting and chatting during another hour or two of meal preparation is excruciating when you're salivating over the aroma of the dinner.
posted by angab at 1:02 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Always carry gum and a lighter. No one ever turns gum down if you offer it, and plenty of people need a light, even if you don't smoke
posted by MangyCarface at 1:05 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, here are some things that come immediately to mind.

-Speaking in English for me even when everyone else speaks another language. Not lapsing into side jokes in the other language. This certainly isn't something I expect out of people, would ever ask anyone to do, or would resent people for NOT doing. But when people do it, I feel like it's really nice of them and they are being extra considerate of me. I don't know if this applies to you at all.

-In a situation where I'm being introduced to a group who all know each other (e.g. being introduced to SO's family), helping me feel less out of place introducing subjects that I can talk about, and explaining the references that I don't get, when they do come up. Again, when I'm in the opposite situation where everyone is talking about that thing with Aunt Agatha that happened 10 years ago, I certainly wouldn't expect people to avoid the topics they want to talk about when I'm there. It's just extra considerate when someone actively tries to create a situation where I'm more included.
posted by cairdeas at 1:22 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

My hands are always dry, so I love it when there is a bottle of lotion out in the bathroom or guest room when I am staying with friends. Doesn't have to be anything special, just a non-scented pump bottle of lotion.
posted by teragram at 1:28 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Put a net-enabled laptop or desktop in your guest room.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:34 PM on November 28, 2011

Oops, unintentional proximity there, teragram.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:35 PM on November 28, 2011 [38 favorites]

just back a step from cairdeas's point - make sure when you are meeting people you know, and your friend doesn't, that you introduce everyone to each other. I know for most people this is common courtesy but my boyfriend is terrible at this and I found it very awkward at first.
posted by unlaced at 1:39 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Put a net-enabled laptop or desktop in your guest room.

My parents have the password for their wifi written down in a prominent place in their guest room.
posted by atrazine at 1:42 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

When people are upset, the cultural convention is to bring them hot beverages.
posted by vsync at 1:52 PM on November 28, 2011 [12 favorites]

Be willing to accept other people's courtesy. This is a little different from the other advice here, but if someone really wants to do something for you, accepting with genuine appreciation (after maybe a token "Oh you really don't have to!") is an important courtesy, I think. For instance, if your new girlfriend offers to help you in the kitchen while you're cooking for her, don't rush to do everything yourself and not let her help. People like to feel useful and appreciated.
posted by MadamM at 2:05 PM on November 28, 2011 [11 favorites]

My Bear always pilots the shopping cart in stores and carries the bags when we leave. Often he tells me to get in the car while he returns the cart. He has been doing this since we met, and it is one of the kind things he does which made me fall for him.

Another overlooked one is to be punctual, or even early. It is so nice not to make other people wait.
posted by bearwife at 2:08 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Point out a place I can sit/set down my stuff. Also, give parking details beforehand. It's nice to know if you have to circle the block vs park in front.
posted by shinyshiny at 2:10 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

In the bathroom, keep extra soap, toilet paper, shampoo, aspirin, and feminine hygiene products in an easy-to-find place. (For instance, a basket on the floor with a few extra rolls of TP and a bar of soap; other stuff in an obvious cabinet.) Give the bathroom a wipe before anyone comes over. (Even if you don't do most of this, TOILET PAPER is key.)

In the guest's room, have the bed set up with fresh towels and hand towels folded on top, bottles or glasses of water nearby, and a few clear surfaces (and an empty drawer and empty hangers in the closet if possible).

Make sure outside lights are on if someone might be coming over at night.

Offer to take their coat and show them a place to put their stuff. Before they leave, remind them about anything they may have forgotten. A really nice gesture that may not always be appropriate is to give them something for the road ("I baked these cookies yesterday, take a couple home with you!" or "Before you go, here's that book you wanted to borrow.")
posted by chickenmagazine at 2:29 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I tell people, not only that i have a cat, but what to expect and how you can interact with him. He will likely want to sit on you, if you don't like it, please feel free to push him away or onto the floor. I won't be offended!
posted by Gor-ella at 2:30 PM on November 28, 2011

If there's a chance of unplanned sleepovers with your lady friend - makeup wipes, (new) toothbrush, toothpaste, ladies deodorant. IMO feminine hygiene products is going a little too far and to me would seem weird and maybe a little creepy - plus, unless you know her personal preference, you'd probably get the wrong size, brand and/or type.
Fresh roll of toilet paper or have a spare roll in open view - not everyone is comfortable poking around in other people's cabinets.
posted by missmagenta at 2:36 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tea, fruit, fresh towels, blankets, somewhere quiet to sit and relax.
posted by ead at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2011

Always a carafe (like this one) next to the bed for overnight guests, and usually a small vase of flowers.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:12 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not dousing you, yourself, your bathroom, your kitchen in any kind of strong scent. This might be just a personal thing, but some people have sensitivities to fragrances/perfumes and it's hard to stay in an otherwise inviting place if it's giving you a headache.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:15 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

(gah, scratch out the second "you." Clearly I've been around too many overpowering places today...)
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:16 PM on November 28, 2011

Best answer: Keep an extra "loaner" umbrella handy in your house and your car. Always carry some cash when you go out (especially helpful if there's bill-splitting to be done). If you're wooing, hang onto a ticket stub, restaurant menu/receipt or other memento from an early date and frame it as a gift later. Develop a repertoire of fun conversation starters to help bridge awkward silences, especially among people who are just getting to know one another. Put a nightlight in your bathroom. Send short but heartfelt handwritten thank-you notes.
posted by argonauta at 4:22 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Tell people the rules: We get up early to run, we'll try not to wake you. or We get up late/at 10, but the coffee maker is all set, just push the red button. Don't worry about waking us up if you get up earlier.

Please don't give Buster people food, it makes him sick.

If you get hungry during the night, the snacks are in the cupboard next to the fridge.
posted by theora55 at 4:22 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Have available an electrical outlet where the guest can charge their phone, along with a table or surface to place it on while charging. I recently stayed in a fancy hotel and it was a pain to have to unplug a lamp to charge my phone near the bed. I was using my phone for white noise and alarm clock and so didn't want it to be across the room while I slept, but there were no available outlets anywhere near the bed.
posted by FormerMermaid at 4:48 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

If I can prepare ahead of time, a special treat. My stepmother has a sweet tooth, other friends like a particular type of diet soda, etc.
posted by annsunny at 5:09 PM on November 28, 2011

If you tell the guest they can leave their shoes on and the guest says no, they don't mind taking them off, let them take off their shoes.

Virtually nobody where I live wears shoes (slippers, maybe but not outdoor shoes) in the house and the odd time I've been told to keep them on it feels wrong. OTOH, if you're having renovations done or something, tell the guest why you'd prefer to keep them on.
posted by variella at 5:13 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I stay overnight at my manfriend's house, he always leaves a glass of water near the bed for me and makes sure that I have access to edibles if I wake up before he does. Oh, and he puts out an extra blanket in case I get cold at night.

All of these things are charming as hell.
posted by corey flood at 5:38 PM on November 28, 2011

These are such awesome ideas, I'm loving this thread.

I'm always impressed by friends who have awesome beverages in their fridge. Not just alcoholic ones, but things like sparkling water (Perrier Pink Grapefruit, OMG), or nice juices or iced tea. Feels fancy, doesn't cost much.

If I were staying in someone's guest room, especially if it's for a longer duration, I'd love it for there to be water/drinks and a little something snacky laid out for me. Fruit, chocolate, chips, whatever. (Oh man, I'm totally putting a mini-fridge in my guest bedroom whenever I get a guest bedroom.) Leave some interesting reading lying about. To me, it sends the message that my hosts are ok with me enjoying some solitude for a bit if I feel like it.

I think it's really nice to have good soap and lotion in the bathroom, but for dates, I'd feel weird if the guy I'd just started seeing had all this feminine stuff on hand. A new toothbrush is considerate, but anything beyond that would either make me think they were remnants of an ex-girlfriend (which, ew), or that the fella entertained A LOT of overnight ladyfriends. (Obviously this varies for every woman, but it would squick me out is all.) You could invest in some "gender neutral" products though -- i.e., Cetaphill soap does not scream "for girls only" but is gentle enough to use as a makeup remover.

Also, if you're getting new towels for guests, run them through the wash a few times before you expect anyone to use them. Maybe I just buy shitty towels, but I find brand-new towels leave weird lint stuff on my skin the first few times I use them. Oh, and get the nice big bath sheets if you can.

If you know what phone your date has, having extra charger on hand would be great. (Hopefully her phone is popular enough that it's not weird for you to have an extra charger for it lying around!)

Oh, and have really nice pens. Not fancy expensive ones, but ones by Zebra or Pilot that cost around $2 or $3 a pop. (There are a couple great AskMe threads about this) It's just so much nicer to write/sign anything when you've got a good pen.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 5:39 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Things that make me feel really comfy in another's home is when they themselves act relaxed and friendly. For an extended guest or girlfriend/boyfriend it's good to share any moods or preferences you have so that you don't leave them wondering if something is wrong. Let them know you are prone to taking a walk after work to relax, or whatever.

I love leaving out magazines or books for their viewing pleasure and also giving them privacy when appropriate. I also leave snacks and bottled water in their room so if they get hungry they don't have to trudge out in the middle of the night. I will also fold up towels and washcloths and leave them on the dresser in their room so they don't have to hunt them down.

It's quite refreshing to see someone concerned about courteousness! Bravo to you!!
posted by gypseefire at 5:45 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to emphasize other's comments about making sure you have a small trash can in the bathroom(s). As a female, when I'm staying at someone's house who does not have one, it's super batshit crazy frustrating (and rather embarrasing) when you have to walk your wad of toilet paper out to the kitchen garbage can. Ugh!

I have to also second the clean hand towel in bathrooms. Can't dry hands on someone's bath towel. Eww!
posted by foxhat10 at 6:00 PM on November 28, 2011 [8 favorites]

foxhat10: "making sure you have a small trash can in the bathroom(s)"

Preferably one with a lid!
posted by IndigoRain at 6:05 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Extra toothbrushes, contact solution, and lens cases in the bathroom.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:59 PM on November 28, 2011

If you like people to take their shoes off when they visit, have a chair or a bench near the doorway where they can sit while they're taking shoes off/putting them on. It's so uncomfortable crouching/bending in someone's entryway trying to slip shoes on and off, especially if they're standing there towering overhead waiting to say hi or wish you goodbye.

With the lady friend, pay attention to what she likes to order to drink when you're out, and stock some of it in your fridge for when she comes over.
posted by vytae at 7:17 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a huge fan of the proffered bathrobe...in hotels or whenever I stay or swim at someone's house. They are snuggly and warm and make me feel comfortable and at home.
posted by murrey at 7:34 PM on November 28, 2011

When you are eating or sitting together, it's nice to pour the other person/people's drinks before your own. And when you top yours up, topping up theirs as well is really sweet. With water or tea, I think it's just nice to go ahead and serve them without even asking, but with alcoholic beverages, I guess you should probably ask first in case they are deliberately limiting themselves to one glass.
posted by lollusc at 7:49 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

In some situations, it's awkward for a guest to ask, "Hey, can I use your shower?" and it might be awkward for the host to say, "Hey, do you need a shower?" Instead, make the offer while you're showing the guest around the house: "And this is the bathroom. If you want to shower, there are clean towels in the cupboard. Here's how to turn on the hot water, it's a little finicky."
posted by Pwoink at 7:50 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Before you cook something, ask about food allergies and preferences. Allergies/vegetarianism comes up readily, but I find the question, "What foods do you hate?" is helpful when planning a menu. Normally the answer I receive is a list of 3-4 foods that can easily be omitted. I've saved myself a lot of trouble by finding out ahead of time that so-and-so hates some innocuous food like bell peppers that was going to be a staple of the meal. (This is courteous to the guest but also saves you a lot of stress... which probably makes you a better host!)
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:14 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Water! Water! Water! Tell me where the glasses are, where the ice is, if you have a Brita pitcher or if your tap water is the best ever. If you really love me you'll offer me seltzer water. Give me an obvious place in your guest bedroom to put my water glass. If I travelled to see you in any way, shape or form I'm going to be thirsty. Water me, please.
posted by bendy at 10:44 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the flipside, if you get to a point in your relationship where she's comfortable enough to leave you sleeping in her bed while she goes to work, make the bed before you leave. My boyfriend does this every time and I love it. Coming home to a neatly made bed to flop down upon is so luxurious.
posted by birch effect at 10:59 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you like people to take their shoes off when they visit, have a chair or a bench near the doorway where they can sit while they're taking shoes off/putting them on. It's so uncomfortable crouching/bending in someone's entryway trying to slip shoes on and off, especially if they're standing there towering overhead waiting to say hi or wish you goodbye.

Also, provide a shoe horn with a long handle.
posted by atrazine at 12:31 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

One former boyfriend would wash my windshields for me while I gassed up my car.

Asking if you can pick anything up on the way over is nice.

When we've been cooking together at my place, bf takes my trash out without being asked.
posted by emumimic at 12:34 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I always light incense in the bathroom before guests come over, but I make sure it matches a scent that they like or don't find offensive.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:47 AM on November 29, 2011

Ah, in addition to the ESSENTIAL trash can in the bathroom, a small lidded trash can in the bedroom is nice if you don't have one. (Fingers crossed) your lady friend may prefer to cleanup post-sexy time in the bedroom, or there may be a condom that needs throwing out, or she may need to remove a tampon RIGHT NOW IMMEDIATELY CAN'T WAIT ANY LONGER and it's slightly baffling when no little trash can exists.
posted by teragram at 4:56 AM on November 29, 2011

If your dogs or cats tend to jump on people, keep them next to you, or in another room until you've established that your guest likes (not just tolerates) animals. There's nothing worse than an ill-behaved dog that jumps on your lap and tries to steal the hors d'oeuvres or lick your face.
posted by desjardins at 7:58 AM on November 29, 2011

When hosting parties with guests who don't know each other, try take some time beforehand to figure out what any two people might have in common. That way, when you introduce people to each other, you can also give them a starting subject to talk about: "Lucy, this is Colin, who is planning to travel in Thailand, like you did last year..." etc.
posted by neroli at 9:21 AM on November 29, 2011

When someone sleeps over in the guest room, I'll always explicitly state they don't have to make the bed in the morning as the sheets get washed anyway.
posted by lioness at 2:44 PM on November 29, 2011

Also a good time to point out "Ask Culture vs Guess Culture" - guests may not appreciate direct inquiries into their wants, or even be able to answer them.
posted by lalochezia at 5:06 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

This seems counter-intuitive, but let your guests know when it's time for them to leave. I have a friend who does this. Whenever we go over, she lets us know at the start how long we can stay, and when that time comes around, she says, "Ok, get the f*** out!" (jokingly, of course). It's such a relief not to try to read hints or worry that I've overstayed my welcome.
posted by Tall Telephone Pea at 3:06 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

My friend always gets out of the car with me when I'm pumping gas and I think it's so nice of him. It's nice to have someone to talk to and also nice to have someone else there if it's late at night.

Along the same lines, when I drop someone off at their house I always make sure to wait until they've actually gone inside before driving away.
posted by exceptinsects at 12:02 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

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