Weekend guest etiquette - am I right to be upset?
August 18, 2014 6:04 PM   Subscribe

I recently had two very close friends to stay for the weekend. My partner and I put a load of effort into tidying and cleaning the house, buying new towels for our guests, filling the cupboards and fridge with yummy (and expensive!) food, and my partner spent hours cooking. I had a nice, though tiring, weekend (with some awkwardness as we have all changed over the years since we were very, very close) but when the guests had left, my partner pointed out that neither of them had brought a gift (I would never expect something huge, but I don't think I ever don't take a bottle of wine/flowers/chocolates if I go to stay with someone..). We also realised that neither of them had offered to (or taken it upon themselves) to help with the washing up after any of the homemade meals we had - even breakfast!

Does this seem rude to you? In my partner's culture and family, it definitely is, and he's quite offended. I'm trying to make excuses for them in my head, but I can't help but feel a bit put out and underappreciated.. I'm someone who tends to be very demonstrative when I am grateful, and think of myself as quite generous. It also didn't help that one of them frequently makes snobby comments about the region of the country I live in (and was born in)!

Is there anything I can do to improve how I feel about the situation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (64 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If I were a guest in someone's home, I would absolutely help out and bring a hostess gift. But when I'm a hostess, I want my guests to feel completely taken care of, and it is a compliment to me if they are so relaxed that they don't even think to ask. If they were to ask if I needed help, I would be afraid that I was acting like having them at my home was a bother. Even if it is, I want my guests to feel completely welcome. If I do need help, I'll politely ask if they would like to pitch in.

That may not be how you feel, but if you keep repeating it to yourself, it may help in this situation.
posted by janey47 at 6:10 PM on August 18, 2014 [13 favorites]

This is the way some people are.
Some people are willing to help but don't want to get in the way.
First, decide if it is worthwhile staying friendly enough for weekend visits such as this, and if it is, all you can do is ask for their help. And then, do it.
If they only work grudgingly, re-re-evaluate the relationship.

The gift thing is cultural. I wouldn't expect one and probably wouldn't bring one, though I would probably buy a bunch of drinks. So . . . I got nothing on the gift thing but to counsel patience and understanding, as with all things.
posted by Seamus at 6:10 PM on August 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

It's somewhat rude, but I think dwelling on it is fare moreso. They're your friends, and you just learned something about how your friends think of weekend visits (casual, no gifts, not much of a show of helping out around the house), so in the future I'd adjust accordingly and call it a day. You did something generous and hopefully they'll think of it fondly as "that fabulous weekend at anonymous's."

If they continue to be outright rude (making fun of where you live and were born), maybe they're just rude people and not good friends in the first place! In which case it's not about the gift or washing up, it's about their ill-suitedness to be your friends.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:11 PM on August 18, 2014 [17 favorites]

The gift is nice, but not everyone has that standard (ex. I try to do this, or to buy dinner for my hosts, but I wouldn't expect it from a guest.) Not offering to help with washing-up is definitely rude, yes.

If I were in your shoes, I would try to apply your generosity of spirit to letting go of your friends' rudeness. Until you realized that they'd failed to live up to two standards proper etiquette (one of which I don't think is really standard for everyone), you'd enjoyed the weekend. I think the best thing for you is to try not to let their rudeness spoil it retroactively.
posted by kagredon at 6:12 PM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

How old are your friends? These days I would never stay at someone's house (unless we were so close as to routinely borrow each other's couch or were related) without bringing some wine or similar, but when I was in my twenties gifts were something you saw people doing in movies and things were more informal. I'm sure I was unintentionally rude at times to people who expected gifts, but it really wasn't something I can remember discussing or seeing in real life.

I'm talking about the difference between being hosted (more formal, requires a gift) and crashing with a friend (informal, no gift needed but rude to drink all the beer), and for me that shift happened about when I got out of grad school and started having mostly friends with real jobs.

Offering to help with the washing up is a universal requirement of being a guest, though, and people who don't do that should be relegated to staying in barns.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:15 PM on August 18, 2014 [25 favorites]

I cook you clean isn't that how it works? And don't forget to bring some beer!!!
posted by dlite65 at 6:16 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Did you do something nice for your friends (hosting them) because you wanted something in return, or did you do something nice for them because you wanted to do something nice for them?
posted by emelenjr at 6:24 PM on August 18, 2014 [59 favorites]

I think most of this is cultural. For example, the recent trend where I live is to allocate each guest to bring something similar to a potluck (this is because I'm from a culture where a gift needs to be returned with a gift in a never ending loop). That being said, all of my friends who have been to my house offer to help clean up.

The question is how much do you want to let it bother you.

My best friend from high school, who I had not seen for several years, stayed at my house over the weekend a few years ago. Over the weekend, she went through my entire closet of clothes without asking me, and made comments about how my refrigerator and cupboard were "not stocked properly for a woman who wants to catch a man."

At that point, I realized that she and I were not the same people we were in high school. We still exchange Christmas cards, but that's about all the contact we have now.
posted by xmts at 6:25 PM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

These things can definitely be cultural. In my culture (Indian), people would most likely bring a gift if visiting for the weekend, but would never offer to help wash up. That would almost be considered an insult, because it would seem like you didn't understand your role as a guest and theirs as host. More than either gifts or help with household chores though, would be the expectation that at some point you would return the hospitality. Have these friends of yours ever invited you over, or are they likely to do so at some point? In any case, why worry about this? Have an open heart, and don't keep score. If these friends are habitually takers and not givers, then sure, let go of this friendship. But until then, there's no point in letting this occupy any mental space.
posted by peacheater at 6:25 PM on August 18, 2014 [24 favorites]

This reminds me of Ask culture vs. Guess culture - you expect them to guess, they expect you to ask. But you know more about their culture and upbringing than we do. Maybe they come from a culture where it's insulting to offer to help as if to imply that the hosts aren't doing a good job or are too poor to afford help or something. Even if they're from Blandy McSuburb USA all kinds of subcultures and twisted mores exist within families. Maybe their parents' generation didn't like having guests messing up their kitchens. When I was younger I felt super awkward as a guest because I knew I was expected to offer to help but I didn't know how to do anything but load a dishwasher. Anyway there's a million ways this could go, but I agree that you shouldn't dwell on this and don't let it retroactively ruin your weekend.
posted by bleep at 6:27 PM on August 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

How close are these friends? I wouldn't expect anything from a close girlfriend; if it was a more distant relationship then yes I would expect some item of thanks BUT even that depends on who invited whom. If I invited them then I wouldn't expect anything. But once I had an old uni friend ask to crash at my place for the weekend and she didn't even buy me a beer. I didn't feel properly thanked and it did shift my opinion of her.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:31 PM on August 18, 2014

I would absolutely bring a gift or give my hosts ones when I left.

But, honestly, sometimes things are hectic and people don't have a chance to get a gift before they leave for their trip, and as you said, the weekend was tiring, no doubt for them as well as you, and they might have neglected to get you one afterwards.

The thing about hospitality is that you are supposed to treat your guests well because they're guests and you enjoy their company, not because you get something else in return.

It also didn't help that one of them frequently makes snobby comments about the region of the country I live in (and was born in)!

This is not cool and makes me think that the non-gift thing was a symptom of other issues, rather than the issue itself.
posted by deanc at 6:32 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

It kind of comes across as it not having occurred to you just how rude/thoughtless this behavior was until your partner started going in about it. You don't have to make excuses for them. Flag it as "won't be having them over again" since it bothers you both so much, and move on.
posted by sm1tten at 6:34 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

You sound like you're looking for reasons to be annoyed with your friends because they didn't exclaim over your expensive food, clean house, and new towels. (Honestly, how would they know that you don't live that way all the time?)

I have seen and done all possible permutations from bringing a gift to not bringing a gift (I had no idea, until I was in my 20s that you were even supposed to bring a gift since my family never did anything like this) and helping clean or not helping clean. (Personally, I hate it when people help clean and would never ask someone to help and am glad when people don't ask if they can help.)

You don't mention, but did your friends treat you to dinner or pay for tickets to something or buy drinks while you were out? If so, I would consider that to be the kind of "gift" you are expecting. Also, it sounds as though they were once your close friends, not your partners, so I can see how your partner would not be as forgiving.

If I were you, I'd not let my partner wind me up about this. Let it go and maintain the friendship accordingly.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 6:35 PM on August 18, 2014 [36 favorites]

Cultural indeed: in my family, a present for the hostess (flowers) is a must.
But it's not the role of a guest to be expected to help with the dishes and cleaning-up. We would never even offer to do such a thing. That's not what invited guests do.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:35 PM on August 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

I used to do elaborate things for people who visited my home, or actually just for friends in general, and then when they didn't notice it or appreciate it I'd feel hurt and put out.

While doing something elaborate can be fun, it has to be done without expectation. That is, if I do something time consuming or expensive for someone else, I have to enjoy the doing. I can't expect to derive any enjoyment from someone else's reaction to what I have done.

This has saved me from feeling put out or unappreciated, and I still do fun things and nice things for people, but I no longer do too much. I wouldn't do a load of cleaning and get lots of expensive food and spent hours cleaning and buy new stuff unless all that activity was purely for its own sake.

All that said, yes, it is rude not to bring a hostess gift, or to not offer to take y'all out for dinner, or offer some gesture of appreciation. And it's incredibly rude not to once say thank you when people are doing you favors, feeding you, etc. I think that is poor form and I wouldn't want them back as overnight guests.
posted by sockermom at 6:43 PM on August 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

I didn't know the phrase "hostess gift" until I was about 35 and had met my wife. Your partner is being an uptight jerk. If you're looking for an excuse to dump your friends, go for it, but I wouldn't do that.

You invited them to be your friends, not your dishwashers. You had a good time. Be super thankful you have good friends like that who visit you and enjoy you.

Look at how many AskMe questions are from very sad people who say they have no friends. Appreciate what you have and don't make up reasons to ruin it.
posted by alms at 6:45 PM on August 18, 2014 [44 favorites]

For what it's worth I am Canadian levels of polite, but usually would not offer to help with the washing up during my first couple of times in a friend's home.

Experience has shown that if I don't know where anything goes or how it's handled (compost/recycling/food scraps) I just have to make the host get up and work anyway to answer my questions -- where's your garbage? Do I put the dishes in the sink? and so on. I know from experience that when guests do things their own way even with the best of intentions it just makes more work for me later!
posted by jess at 6:45 PM on August 18, 2014 [12 favorites]

My apologies, I thought your guests never thanked you. Disregard the last paragraph of my comment.
posted by sockermom at 6:46 PM on August 18, 2014

Oh, jeez... I've hosted many people at our place and can't recall any of 'em bringing a gift and/or helping out. I was glad to have their company, they were glad to have a place to stay. I've left hostess gifts on occasion, but not as an arbitrary rule.

Believe me: the older you get, the more you will see that there are PLENTY of hideous reasons you will wind up despising various people in your life. If these are folks you legitimately like, whose company you enjoy, please do NOT let something like this get in the way of that.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:46 PM on August 18, 2014 [26 favorites]

I always take a gift and I always offer to help with prep and/or dishes. However, not everyone does this. Some people just don't follow the same rules of etiquette that I do. Do you like your friends? Did you enjoy your time with them? Did you laugh, catch up, have interesting conversations? Would you like to see them again? If so, accept that this is the way that they are and that they did not do this to hurt you or your partner on purpose.

Years ago I confronted a close friend and her husband over a somewhat similar situation. It was a very stupid move on my part. My friend is very laid back and relaxed, she doesn't do big meals, is a terrible housekeeper. But she's awesome. My partner is awesome too, but comes from a background where proper etiquette is highly prized. What I should have done was to calm my partner down, talk to her about my friend's good points, not escalate the situation by agreeing that these lapses of etiquette were outrageous. At the end of it all my friend and her husband were upset, my partner was upset and I felt terrible.

I eventually managed to repair the friendships but by showing a bit more grace and openness at the time I could have handled things much better and saved many hurt feelings and a good deal of awkwardness. Consider what you want to take out of this situation. In my case I'm very, very happy to have my friend and her partner in my life, and the gifts she has brought me in terms of friendship, advice, laughs and love over the years far outweigh any number of bottles of wine or wiping up after dinner.
posted by Cuke at 6:58 PM on August 18, 2014 [14 favorites]

I am a frequent houseguest of a number of different friends. I ALWAYS bring a small gift, and offer to take my host out to dinner, and ask if I can help with the dishes (the answer is always no, as it is in my house, but I ask anyway), and when I leave I strip the bed and put my sheets and towels in the laundry room. To me these are the basics. And I knew to do this when I was in my twenties.

But, perhaps your friends are from a different culture? Or just somehow missed this life lesson? I don't know. To me it's obvious that being a host is a LOT of work and as a guest you need to do something to show your appreciation if you want to be invited back. Metafilter skews young and questions about not receiving a thank you note, hostess gift, etc. are almost always met with comments that you should give for the joy of giving and expect nothing in return. Nice, but totally unrealistic. Reciprocity is the glue that keeps relationships together. I think your friends were rude. Excusably rude, perhaps. But rude.
posted by HotToddy at 7:01 PM on August 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

I suggest you and your partner look on this as a learning opportunity. You can learn to ask guests for help when you need it (which in my world is a totes legit thing to ask of house guests), and your partner can learn that hostess gifts, while lovely and appreciated, are not something you can expect from everyone due to cultural differences.

And as far as these guests are concerned, you can both learn that while they may be lovely people and good friends, they aren't naturally very considerate or generous in return for your generosity.

That doesn't make them bad people, but it's something to consider if they ask to visit again. As a learning opportunity for them too, they might respond well to an up-front request to pitch in more.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:03 PM on August 18, 2014

While I can certainly believe that this is an open question, it is true that cultural factors -- the definition of hospitality -- may play a major role. A lot has happened since, but in the Homeric (and onward into later Western cultures, in some of which it is still current) sense "hospitality" means that the host gives everything to the guest; if this is an influence here, you'd have to go stay at their place to learn whether they're old school or simply ungrateful bastards.
posted by mr. digits at 7:03 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agree that this is culture. In every non-WASP-type culture, I have found gifts for your host/hostess to be a must regardless of socioeconomic status. In WASP culture, it seems to be a must among upper middle class or wealthy people.

Just my observation from having friends of many backgrounds and traveling to many countries.
posted by superfille at 7:06 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's a cultural thing. Even when we were young and broke, we brought a hostess gift. It wasn't expensive, but we certainly brought something. It might be an East Coast thing or a Southern thing (since my family is from both). Same with offering to clean. I always offer to clean up (and I volunteer my husband to take out the trash!) I suspect that hosting is very important in the OPs culture - cleaning, expensive groceries, new towels.

Now the thing with hosting is the comfort of the guests is the goal. There's an old story that I heard as a child. A guest at a party didn't know what a finger bowl was. He thought it was a fancy water glass with lemon and he took a sip. The gracious hostess immediately took a sip from hers so that her guest would not feel awkward.

Your guest did something that doesn't align with your expectations. My cultural bias is that a good host doesn't make them feel awkward about it.
posted by 26.2 at 7:12 PM on August 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

For me, there's a sense in which politeness creates a sense of distance that I don't love. I absolutely try to remember to get gifts for people these days as I've been introduced to the custom, but I wasn't brought up to think it was the thing to do, and I definitely don't expect it.

My underlying feeling is that somehow it is overly formal and unnecessary, and just sort of fake. I would much rather have friends get me gifts only if they come across something that makes them think of me or they truly want to express something, not because they feel it is the appropriate time to show they can follow cultural etiquette.

I mean, I've adopted the majority's rules thanks to my partner, but I would not assume your friends don't appreciate you because they haven't. If they treated you badly, refuse to provide you with a place to stay when you're near them, never offer to cover costs when you're out, or otherwise disregard your needs, that would be one thing, but if it's just about a token of thanks, I think you're overreacting.
posted by mdn at 7:12 PM on August 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

In my culture (SE American), your guests' behavior would be seen as very rude. I personally always bring a small gift for my host(s) when I stay at other people's homes, and offer to help with the washing up and other chores, too.

But, demanding/expecting these niceties of your guests makes you and your husband poor hosts, which in my view is even worse that the guests' behavior. Guests should strive to be grateful and respectful and helpful, but good hosts strive to make their guests comfortable and happy, and host without expectations.

Also what emelenjr said.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:14 PM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

the key question is, are your friends generous in spirit? do they make you happy? because, not to sound cheesy, but those things are more important than gifts or dishwashing. There are probably plenty of mean-spirited people who would remember to bring gifts to a friends house or offer to wash dishes. Don't be quick to hold resentment over something like this.
posted by bearette at 7:22 PM on August 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I actually had this exact scenario occur last weekend. My friends would get tipsy after I went to bed and left me with a kitchen full of early dishes. I politely asked them to clean up so I could start breakfast for the kids at 6. They did. No harm, no foul. They also ran errands and picked up groceries for dinner when needed.

This is also about duration of stay. The longer they stay, the more they should pitch in. You're not running a hotel, after all. However, I also think it's your responsibility to ask that they help as well. This is assuming you're close enough friends that spending a weekend together is something you want to do again.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:25 PM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Never heard of a hostess gift until I was in my mid-20's. As for doing dishes, no, I would not have volunteered that ever. It wasn't something that was practiced in my home growing up as model behavior.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:37 PM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

It can be part of your culture, but if they're not of your culture, why hold them to it? I think Ask trumps Guess every time and it's presumptuous otherwise.

Don't invite them back and publish a schedule of rates and tariffs for next time.
posted by kcm at 7:40 PM on August 18, 2014

I didn't know the phrase "hostess gift" until I was about 35 and had met my wife.

I didn't know about it until Ask MetaFilter became a part of my life. I would bring a bottle of wine or something for people who invited me to a dinner party, but if I was passing through, maybe not. That said, I make the distinction that Dip Flash does: crashing with people versus being hosted by them. I am still often doing the former (where I am mostly sleeping at someone's place while in town for some other reason and they are doing me a favor) in which case I'd bring groceries or gifts for the kids or something and would expect to Do Every Dish. If I was a specific invited guest somewhere (something that happens for me more often with family) I'd maybe bring something and I probably wouldn't expect to do the washing up, though I would definitely offer.

I am the same when people are at my house: either they are crashing with me in which case I'd expect them to either be scarce or bring food or something, or they are my guests in which case I clean the place, hook them up at mealtimes and don't let them get anywhere near the dishes. That said, I have frequently had larger gatherings at my house (10-15 people, potluckish) where we all pitch in to do dishes and clean up and it's sometimes notable who is NOT helping. I sort of get it (you don't want to be in the way, you don't know where things go) but mostly don't and in the future I would often give those people a specific job to do if I wanted them to help.

In either case though, people are unpredictable and sometimes you have to make a choice about deciding to hold a grudge about something like this or not. I vote not, it seems within the range of "things people might do" and not be that horrible. You seem to have really made an effort, which is nice, but it's not the same kind of graceful if you expect there to be some obvious and expected response. You feel how you feel, which is fine, but I'd sort of decide how you're going to deal with that next time (or bitch to other friends about it and get their feedback) and let it go. You can't change what happened in the past.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 PM on August 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

It was very nice of you to buy towels for your guests and fix elaborate meals for them, but they didn't ask for that and may not have expected it. If they were more on the "crashing on the couch" end of the spectrum and you were "buy towels and cook fancy meals" end, then there's a mismatch of expectations. That's nobody's fault. If someone went to such elaborate lengths for me when I didn't request or expect it, and then were pissed that I didn't respond in kind, I'd probably be annoyed because I never expected new towels and expensive food. You presumably did this because you wanted to and not to burden your guests with surprise expectations.

I've also been in the position of washing dishes to be a good guest and being told I did it wrong. I tend to not offer because it's the women who are expected to (I'm a woman and will offer to help after a man has) and it's awkward to navigate someone else's kitchen.
posted by Mavri at 7:52 PM on August 18, 2014 [21 favorites]

My partner and I put a load of effort into tidying and cleaning the house, buying new towels for our guests, filling the cupboards and fridge with yummy (and expensive!) food

All of that is irrelevant and shouldn't be held against your friends, because they had no way of knowing you'd done it. As far as they can tell -- since you've changed over the years -- this is just how you live.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:57 PM on August 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

What makes you feel better? Holding a grudge or being generous with no expectation of compensation? Since you don't know why they didn't bring you a gift, is it easier to assume malice or a mistake/lack of knowledge?

In short, what kind of people do you want to be?
posted by Lyn Never at 8:14 PM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes, they're rude. They may just be ignorant, but who doesn't even lift a finger and offer to help with clean-up after a meal? It sounds like they came for a enjoyable weekend of being treated to lovely meals and thoughtful accommodation without feeling as though they should demonstrate any thankfulness. You're not wrong to feel slighted. In a similar situation, at the very minimum I would have brought a little gift and also taken you both out for dinner. Solve the problem by not inviting them back to stay with you. I'm sure they'd enjoy a nice hotel.
posted by quince at 8:25 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can only accurately speak for Western/US culture, but yes. It's not unreasonable to expect a token gift or offer of help, and it's no moral failing to feel a slightly used if none is forthcoming.

My family traveled a lot, and we were frequently hosted in homes across the United States, when I was a kid. Different people had different unspoken expectations -- most were actually complete strangers to us, too -- and we learned to behave in the following ways (unprompted) in order to avoid hurt feelings/express gratitude:

-- Offer to help clean up after meals
-- Try to keep from disturbing their space
-- Strip down bedding, gather used towels, and deposit them near the washer

This was just bare-minimum, cover-the-bases stuff.

As an adult, I always offer to help with dishes, or another simple chore like sweeping up or taking out the garbage. During an extended stay, I'll typically offer to restock some food, do some cooking, or treat them to a meal out (if feasible). If I can, I try to bring some sort of modest gift, but I typically only remember to do this for things like housewarming events (i.e. not staying-over situations).

Honestly, this usually plays out as a socially obligated dance, sort of like when multiple generations will "argue" over the check, before ceding to to eldest/wealthiest member. It's a gesture, with the responding gesture of "Naw, we've got it, just relax!" But it's a kind and -- I feel -- necessary gesture; the hosts feel appreciated, and the guests don't feel like they're mooching. And if the gesture is accepted, then it's not like it's some massive burden.

I understand the sentiment that you shouldn't dwell on this, or feel irreparably affronted. But the idea that the onus is entirely on you to coerce/convince your guests to be minimally helpful/grateful strikes me as... Weird, frankly. Were you supposed to give an itemized tour, or something? ("Here are your towels. By the way, they cost $59 for the set. Would you like some cheese? We had to go two towns over to get it, so counting gas and missed time at work, it's like, $22.50 a pound. Enjoy!") Hyperbole aside, anything close to this would be incredibly gauche. I guess I'm firmly in Camp Guess (or Camp Guests Should Ask).

Appeals to some sort of enlightened, spiritual approach to generosity are all well and good, but I wonder if the same advice would be given if we were talking about a carpool where you always drove and always bought gas? End of the day, your guests should just intrinsically understand that you are 1) making an effort and 2) spending money in order to host them. And they should just make some corresponding effort of their own.

As for the dogging on your locale; you mention that you've grown apart, so I guess it's possible that you used to share a sort of teasing relationship. But barring that, I can't imagine ever doing that as a guest. Like, wow.
posted by credible hulk at 8:27 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a close friend like that. She invites herself over on short notice, bitches the whole time about how I don't have the right kind of butter or bread or milk, doesn't lift a finger to help with meal prep or clean-up. She's entertaining and usually brings a bottle of wine, but she really does come out to my place expecting the royal treatment. I didn't enjoy her visits after the first few. Especially seeing as she lives in a tiny little apartment and can't reciprocate when I visit her ... so I stopped inviting her and when she calls to invite herself, I make up an excuse. I don't mind visiting her in her city but I don't want her here again. I enjoy her company but not if I have to work for it the whole time. It actually saved our friendship, in a way, because I found that I was getting really resentful of her when she visited frequently.
I don't think you should feel bad about feeling bad about this, as it were! If you didn't enjoy working your butt off for your guests, you're entitled to feel that way and not want them out again. They can be friends, just not the house-visiting type of friends, you know?
posted by bluebelle at 8:35 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was raised in a culture (Korean immigrants in the U.S.) where guest-host obligations are taken very seriously. Visiting someone's home for the first time with "empty hands" is a giant no-no. When I've stayed at relatives' homes for the first time, on two occasions they had bought new bedsheets (!!!!) for me and my spouse. In other situations (and not just within Korean culture), I've had my hosts give up their bedrooms so I could be more comfortable. There's a little back-and-forth dance of "yes" "no" but on the most recent occasion, I lost the battle because my friend pulled the "in my culture there is a saying that the guest is a king" card. Washing dishes / helping in the kitchen is wrapped up in some gendered b.s. so I've taken this on a case by case basis, but at the very least offering to help is standard.

I was also raised by a mom who knows what's realistic and comfortable for her to prepare as a meal for guests, and it's not the cornucopia of side dishes that is standard in many other Korean or Korean American homes. My aunt teases my mom that they always leave her house hungry.

So I wonder if this a two-part solution for you and your partner:
1) Relent a little on your own expectations of yourself as hosts so you aren't exhausted. That is, what will make you content that you have made your home comfortable for your guests without straining to reach Best Host of the Year levels of hospitality
2) Model the reciprocity you expect when you visit your friends.

It's true that guest-host obligations vary widely from culture to culture and even from family to family. I've heard on several occasions that I shouldn't impose on Japanese friends (aka, we should expect to stay in a hotel, not their home). But on a trip to Japan this summer, our Japanese classmates offered to put us up in their homes in Japan, even when that meant cramming three people into a tiny room in a share-house. I suspect that because they know our style of hospitality (open door policy and very prone to treating people to dinner), they were happy to reciprocate.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:01 PM on August 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

I seriously don't know anyone IRL, even my relatives, who bring "hostess gifts." They bring food if requested by the hostess (which is a sometimes thing, not all people want that), but no flowers or wine. Not the older generation, not my generation either. Clearly not a thing where I live, I guess.

As for washing up: pretty much every time I've been at someone's house, they tell me NOT to. I gather it is more annoying for them to have a strange person bumbling around, taking up space, not knowing where things are and not washing the dishes exactly the way they like it. Rinsing plates and putting them in the sink is as far as I've ever been allowed.

Clearly, you would hate me at your house. Good thing I'm never coming over!

It's cultural differences. Let it go, but never have them over again if it bothers you so deeply.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:15 PM on August 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

I don't think it's cultural as much as it is simple manners, which is an old concept but a good one. When you're treated with good manners, you appreciate it and feel good; when you treat someone else with good manners, they appreciate it and you feel good, just like they do. What's so difficult about that?

If they couldn't afford a gift, they could certainly afford to offer to help you clean up - that wouldn't cost them anything but it would be a polite way to thank you for your hospitality, which they should do.

You're right to be a bit peeved, but you now know what to expect if these friends come for another visit, which leaves you the opportunity, guilt-free, to be out of town that weekend if you wish.

No biggie, not worth fussing about, but good information to have.
posted by aryma at 9:28 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

a gift is a voluntary act. you therefore cannot have a right to a beef.

you can think of them as ungrateful persons, however.

in other words, no foul, but full understanding, meaning you can't bring it up, but you can not be available next time to offer hospitality.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:16 PM on August 18, 2014

This might be a cultural thing that perhaps I don't quite understand/share. Sure, I've brought beer or snacks over to a friends place, but not every time I'm invited, nor have I offered to help - I help out if asked, otherwise I assume they got it covered. On the flipside, when I invite people over, I don't expect them to bring anything or help out - I invited them as my guests and want nothing more than for them to relax and have a good time.

But I understand everyone was their own unique upbringing, so YMMV. Please consider what you'd say, though, if you confronted these once very, very close friends with this hurdle.

"I invited you as guests for a weekend stay, but my partner is upset because you didn't bring anything to give us and didn't offer to help out, and now I'm upset that my partner is upset."

Why wasn't 'Thank you' enough?
posted by stubbehtail at 10:49 PM on August 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

The other question is how far they travelled to get to see you? When I've sat on train for several hours or got up at 5am to catch a plane I probably wouldn't bring a gift. But I would always help with the washing up!
posted by kadia_a at 11:19 PM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think that in addition to the cultural expectations, it sounds like you've drifted away from these friends and have negative feelings toward them.

Personally, I would be waaaay more offended by the snobby comments than by the lack of cleaning or gifting. Small gestures like that don't register with everyone the same way, and I would bet you would be more willing to let it slide if they weren't being jerks about where you live.
posted by ohisee at 11:25 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, you have the right to be upset. Some people were raised by wolves. Staying with friends is not the same as staying in a hotel.

No point in saying anything though, just never invite them back as guests.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:01 AM on August 19, 2014

It would never, ever occur to me to expect a gift from friends staying over for any length of time, or to offer one if I were staying with friends. It would never, ever occur to me to expect friends staying over for a weekend to help with the washing up, and it most likely would not occur to me to offer.

I have never observed such things occurring in my family, and only very, very seldom among any of the many friends I have had stay over. On the one occasion I can recall when a friend offered to help with the washing up and I said, "Er ... OK, if you really want to," I found it mostly annoying and wished they would stop.

I can't ever recall a friend bringing a gift, but I did live somewhere recently where it's customary to bring a bottle of wine to a party, which I found irritating since neither I nor my partner much like wine so it meant a bunch of bottles gathering dust in our place that we couldn't regift because the person who gave it to us was likely to be at whatever the next party was.

My culture, as far as I can parse while living inside it, says that it is the obligation of the host to make the guests comfortable and happy, and the obligation of the guests to ... well, basically not destroy things or wake people up at 4 AM with their yodeling practice or something. The fairness comes from the expectation that when it is your turn to be guest rather than host, you will be treated the same way.

(The expectation only changes if the stay is extended enough that you have effectively become a lodger; when I recently stayed with friends for a month, I of course did my own cooking and cleaning so on, it would have been unreasonable to expect them to have me there on "guest" status for a whole month.)
posted by kyrademon at 2:20 AM on August 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

Really surprised by everyone saying you should totally bring a gift when staying with "a very close friend". They're your close friend! Don't you want to see them? Isn't the fact that they are there in your house and you can have fun awesome times with them enough?
Wine/flowers are (IMO) reserved for parents/grandparents-in-law and people who you don't know very well.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:22 AM on August 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

I grew up in a home where people coming as guests was about status. Hours of cleaning, sheets replaced, fancy cheese. I still do that, and while I do it I hear the echoes of my mother screaming at my father about what people will think of us if the lawn is shaggy/the closet is messy/etc. I remember -- still get phone calls about -- the after-guest debriefing, the analysis of their behavior, the measuring up of their choice of restaurant if they took the hosts out; did it match their perceived financial status? Then they know who respects them, and manage their limited time and energy accordingly.

When I picture what I want in my present though, I think of my favorite aunt. Her home was often full of people, sometimes people getting on each other's nerves, talking and laughing and having meltdowns...the place you went when you needed to be with your tribe but didn't gave it together to get a gift. The towels, frankly, sucked. It was messy. Meals were plentiful but not elegant; hamburger buns were slapped down on the table in the bag. But my god, the love. Not just for family, either. And while people brought gifts and did dishes (the latter kind of a hygienic necessity) the talk after they left was about the really good time, or worrying for them (not about the dishes), or most often...on to the next thing, because there was so much laughter. It wasn't about status. She let a lot of things slide though, and sometimes was taken advantage of.

I don't think it's an either-or situation. I think you can have fancy cheese and good times, polite reserve and deep friendship...hostess gifts and laughter. But I have made a concerted effort to move the feeling in my own home and mind towards my aunt's. For me it's less stressful.

Both families, in retirement, have friends who operate the same way they do. And are happy.

My point here really is that there isn't an answer except the one that makes sense for you, but it will create an approach that will filter your relationships.

If you want friends who handle visits with a particular care, where they bring respect forward in their hands in a formal way, these aren't them. Don't invite them back. That is fine; there are tons of people who will.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:14 AM on August 19, 2014 [21 favorites]

I always bring some sort of gift (usually a bottle of wine, or some other tasty thing, like dessert) when I come over to someone's house. Most people I know do this. If someone came to visit and didn't bring anything, I wouldn't sulk about it, although I would consider it kind of lame.

Before you read any further, be aware that I am of Mediterranean descent and grew up in the New York area.

Honestly, I really don't get your attitude at all. You seem to want some kind of gold medal for cleaning up, cooking for people, spending money, and making things nice for guests when they come to your house. Doing what you did, in my experience, is what's known as basic hospitality. The idea of hosting someone is to make your guests feel as comfortable as possible. It's not to have people constantly exclaiming, "LOOK AT THESE BEAUTIFUL NEW TOWELS!" or "CHECK OUT HOW MUCH MONEY YOU ARE SPENDING ON ME WITH THIS AWESOME FOOD!" You seem to think this is supposed to be some sort of quid pro quo, where you shell out all kinds of money and get paid back in praise and free labor. Hosting means that I spend on you and you enjoy yourself here; I love and care about you, and want you to be as comfortable and happy as possible while you are here. While you are in my house, I am basically your surrogate mother. You are in a strange place, and my job is to take care of you.

I would expect the occasional "Can I do something to help?" Which would be answered with, "No thanks, just relax."

And this thing with offering to wash the dishes--ugh, just ugh. If you expect them to wash your dishes, why not expect them to grab a mop and clean the bathroom? First of all, I do not want you washing my damn dishes, because I am probably not going to like the way you do it and am going to have to instruct you on where everything goes, which is not worth the trouble. But more importantly, you are not coming to my house to do labor. Your role is the role of the guest, so go into the living room and watch a little TV and relax while we clean up after dinner. I never offer to wash dishes when I go to someone else's house, but I do try to be a model guest in all other ways.

I am a middle-aged person, and never saw any guests washing my mother's dishes, and we never offered to wash the dishes of any of our hosts. If guests had ever asked my mother if they could wash dishes, she probably would have been dumbfounded. Being a guest in someone's home and washing their dishes just seems ridiculous to me.

Hosting people requires a generosity of spirit and willingness to sacrifice with absolutely zero return. If you are expecting some kind of return on your hospitality, then stop hosting people.
posted by Leatherstocking at 5:00 AM on August 19, 2014 [19 favorites]

This is a thing that varies from culture to culture. In the UK, people of my generation do not expect a gift when have people over to stay. We consider that the reason we have invited friends to stay is that we enjoy their company, and the idea is that what we, the hosts, will be getting, is the pleasure of their company and, hopefully, a convivial and pleasant time. If they bring anything it will probably be some nice wine, and that will be welcome, but not expected. Neither do we expect them to help with household chores - we are the hosts, and we are doing the hosting - but again, we'll find it vaguely nice if they offer. But it absolutely isn't expected.

What would typically happen is that they will return the hospitality at their place, some indeterminate time in the future.
posted by Decani at 6:09 AM on August 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

There is another dynamic here which is worth considering.

Your partner is trying to separate you from your friends. That is a red flag. They are your friends, not his. He should be courteous to you, and should be willing to cut extra slack for your friends. Instead he is doing the opposite, trying to get you to cut off relationships that are valuable to you.

Let him get all huffy when his friends do this. For your friends he should be willing to let it slide.
posted by alms at 6:29 AM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Honestly, I'd expect one or the other. Friends I know fairly well are quick to offer to help clean up, and more than a few love to play sous chef when I cook, either for a dinner over or for a long weekend together. And if the person wasn't offering to help clean up and didn't bring a little gift (dude, even some chocolate chip cookies) or offer to take me out for a drink/meal/coffee/cheap tickets to some event we were going to together sometime during the week or offer to reciprocate (I've got at least one friend where we trade off taking long weekend vacations at each other's homes once or twice a year), I'd be miffed.

That said, maybe don't go so overboard with your house guests? New towels, expensive treats, elaborate meals? Chill.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:30 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If they intend to have you over and do all the cooking and dishes and not expect a gift from you, does that change your perception of them? I guess I don't remember visting friends for extended periods apart from in my early twenties when we all would crash at each others houses randomly, and often after a party--- most of us were drunken heathen punks who didn't give a fuck.

I do not understand the culture were people are proper and do proper things, it sounds awful and full of unspoken expectations, disappointments, crappy judgements of people for harmless things, and lessened social ties for the lot of it.

I can't imagine caring about this crap, however I also feel that dishes are an oppressive force that conspire to enslave us all. THEY NEVER STOP.

In my family the host did everything and no one did the dishes for them, but the favor was returned when they got to eat over and not worry about dishes. I tend to offer to do dishes for people because I know how loathed they are to me and I am happy to help others out, but I'm sure there have been times I've forgotten, and I have never EVER in my life had someone offer to do my dishes when hosting them unless it's my aunt who can't stand not helping with chores (and who tends to get angry at everyone for not doing whatever chores she's decided they should do). I can't imagine being angry at someone for this or even having come up with the idea to be angry at someone for this.

I don't like friendships where there is a lot of this kind of unspoken obligation, especially since I have adhd-ish attention span and don't notice messes (including in my own home so it's really not just a desire to ignore others) or what anyone else is doing so I really appreciate people TELLING me what they might need instead of getting angry I didn't do the whatever thing they decided I should do or care about.

But it might just be that you're incompatible and that's ok. I don't think I could be happy trying to be friends who practiced etiquette to the degree they got very offended by people who don't, but I wish them health and happiness and to leave me alone and not be too mean to me behind my back, like, let's just part ways amicably.

Then again most of my family struggles enough with life that we don't bother to put these kinds of expectations on each- or even bother to do fancy levels of cleaning to have each other over and with the level of disabilities, memory impairments, time awareness problems, and chronic pain/fatigue and difficulties we all have with chores and house work and remembering things, we're all a lot happier having each other and not having to deal with people who are higher functioning and carry a huge amount of expectations about that with them. Life is hard enough to be getting angry with each other over stupid shit.

Just thought I'd share a different perspective, one of the many different perspectives your friends might have about it. Ultimately I think the question is in how they treat you when they host. Because if they plan to take care of everything for you and do all the dishes and such, then I don't think there is anything rude about simply having a different set of preferences or expectations about hosting and guesting if you give as well as you get. It's mainly whether they're being reciprocal, and it's totally fair to call a one way street for what it is, if that's the problem going on and they don't ever plan to have you over or return the favor.
posted by xarnop at 6:56 AM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would say it's expectations clashing and it's worse because it's three ways-- them, you and your boyfriend. The remarks about your country of origin suggest you have other reasons to be annoyed with these people. But having houseguests, or being one, is rife with opportunities for people to feel put out or offended and, considered in isolation, best to let them go. I have people that I love but when they have stayed with me I could NOT WAIT for them to be gone. I've been the guest where I knew I was creating a burden but wasn't sure how. (When saying at the beach house of friends, my partner got up and made coffee for everyone every day but he woke people in the process and I am pretty sure the hosts were worried about their coffee machine. He thought he was doing the best thing! I am pretty sure they thought he just couldn't wait for his coffee.)

Anyway, are people being rude? I think it is best to substitute "clueless" or something even if they are horrible houseguests.
posted by BibiRose at 7:31 AM on August 19, 2014

Upon reading all the comments, it's pretty clear that there are different levels of hospitality expected in different cultures. People are going to have different expectations, because ESP is actually not a thing. And sometimes they might not share your values when it comes to being a considerate guest. If you read rudeness/malice into it and take offense every time, you're going to find yourself very unhappy. Better to say that you're not a good match anymore, and decline to invite them again in the future.

We have a house in a beach area, and have guests every weekend of the summer. Some of them stay up to 2 weeks. Many of them are long-term friends who are single and party way more than we can get away with. If we didn't let people know what we needed as hosts (efforts to be quiet after 10pm, don't get high and eat all the kids' breakfast foods, don't leave your half-empty beer cans and wineglasses all in toddler reach, clean anything you dirty after we go to bed), we would be miserable all the time. Instead we let people know what how we do things, and people who don't respond to friendly reminders aren't asked back. People who preemptively volunteer to help get first priority. Everybody's happy and everybody has a good time.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:26 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would never expect guests to do dishes. They're guests, not part of the household. I agree it would be polite to offer, but to actually take them up on it would be rude in my opinion.

How close are they to you? Did you guys used to routinely stay over at each other's houses? If so, a ritual gift might seem to be overly formal. Some people interpret showy formality to be rude/off-putting between close friends.

. My partner and I put a load of effort into tidying and cleaning the house, buying new towels for our guests, filling the cupboards and fridge with yummy (and expensive!) food, and my partner spent hours cooking.

As for this, your guests can't know all this stuff that went into it, so it's unfair to put that on them. Secondly, it seems you went way overboard in getting ready for them. It doesn't seem like you're all that comfortable with them in your house if you felt you needed to make it a hotel-like experience for them. People don't do the washing up at a hotel, by the way, so you might want to recalibrate the signals you send to guests.
posted by spaltavian at 8:28 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

This could easily be me - I agree that it's thoughtless, bordering on rude. For me it's just not something that occurs to me. I still need to figure out a way to remind myself to do this stuff, since I wasn't brought up with these kinds of visits so didn't really learn the etiquette around it. I also grew up in a family that didn't make a big deal about gifts, and I care much less about gifts than the average person - so it often doesn't occur to me when gifts are expected. Not excuses, I know I need to improve in this, but maybe the explanation helps - it isn't necessarily a sign of being a rude jerk in all aspects of life.

For dishes I would suggest asking them. I don't ever volunteer to do dishes when visiting, although I agree it would be more polite - when I've hosted, people rarely offer to help wash dishes, and when they do I rarely take them up on it, although it is appreciated - it just seems like part of hosting someone. But if someone asks me, I'd be more than happy to help! No big deal at all. Only family ever asks me to help, although I'd help any other hosts too if they asked. I'd be pretty unimpressed if I found out later that someone was silently seething over me not offering, without just asking me to help.

For gifts I don't think there really is a polite way to bring it up, other than bringing them a gift when you visit them, or maybe having a subtle conversation about it in vague terms (but careful, this can easily turn passive aggressive and really awkward/impolite). I'd really suggest trying to let it go, if you can. It's a physical token of gratitude, sure, but assuming they show their appreciation verbally and/or otherwise, do you really need another bottle of wine? Is it worth possibly straining or losing the friendship to get them to express their gratitude in the way you would prefer?
posted by randomnity at 10:09 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

My partner and I put a load of effort into tidying and cleaning the house, buying new towels for our guests, filling the cupboards and fridge with yummy (and expensive!) food, and my partner spent hours cooking.

Forcing ourselves to do a thorough house-cleaning is considered a side-benefit of having guests. If I didn't have presentable towels, well that is another side-benefit to myself of having guests, an excuse to buy towels for the bathroom. You shouldn't feel jilted at having to do these.

Food, snack food, and drinks are part of the hosting standard. I used to go pick up expensive cheeses and other fancy food/drinks for company, or cook for hours to make something elaborate. But I've found that people don't really appreciate it as much as I do. Makes me feel jilted and out of pocket. So I learned my lesson, and stopped doing it to be impressive. I cook the way I normally cook, pick up food and drinks we normally like, and a few extras like chips/nuts for snacking. People are just as happy, and I feel more relaxed.

I'm afraid you will just have to take it as a lesson learned with future hosting. Unless you are aware that someone expects lavish treatment, and will be demonstrably appreciative of it, then don't stretch yourselves so far. Simple is better.
posted by lizbunny at 12:53 PM on August 19, 2014

Some people were raised by wolves.

In my opinion, this is a good reason to be compassionate-- you have no idea if your guests, especially if they're young, have ever seen proper guest behavior modeled by anyone in their lives, or how naturally "correct" hostess gifts could possibly seem to someone who didn't grow up with the concept.

I also usually reject guests' offers to clean up, so to me it's no big thing. I agree that your partner should be a little more generous when it comes to your friends.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:55 PM on August 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

You consider yourself to be generous. Does generosity depend on getting something in return, or on someone else following a cultural norm?

I don't want to diminish your feelings- I can understand why you would be annoyed. But I also think that by focusing on this, the only thing you'll accomplish is suffering for you and your partner.

My suggestion would be- be proud that you did a really nice thing for your friends. Maybe they weren't in the same mature place to respond in the way you'd like, but you did a great thing. Letting someone stay at your home is a great gift. And gifts are best when there is no expectation of anything in return.
posted by beau jackson at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2014

I have a certain sympathy for your effort because I'm an untidy person and getting our place into a state where I'd be prepared to have people visit for a whole weekend often takes a fair bit of effort. So I'm often quite tired by the time the guests arrive. You don't get credit for this however - fairly or otherwise it's kind of assumed that having a clean house is a thing you'd be doing anyway. Likewise most households would have a couple of spare towels.

I don't do the "hostess gift" thing and I kind of hate it when people bring them to us. That said, if I was staying with someone for a whole weekend I would probably make a gesture of some kind (taking them out for dinner, bringing home something interesting from our sightseeing, buying some wine to have with dinner.) I probably would think it was weird for someone to stay for a whole weekend without making such a gesture, but I would not be as offended as your partner seems to be - to me the snobby comments would be a much more significant problem, and they would be the reason I wasn't inviting them back.
posted by Cheese Monster at 3:43 PM on August 19, 2014

The gift thing is problematical but these people were not good guests.
If you want to get together again make them reservations at a hotel and take them out to lunch or for a picnic. Don't waste your life bring them home for dinner. Just not worth the trouble.
posted by ptm at 12:26 AM on August 21, 2014

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