For many years, my wife and I lived in a beautiful home on a lake. We enjoyed having friends visit us, and always bent every effort to make them feel welcome and appreciated. It seemed only right, given our previous experiences.
You see, during the years before we owned our place, we had become perpetual guests, enjoying the vacation cottages owned by many of those very same friends. We reveled in extended visits during the summer—always by invitation, of course. But strangely, we were never invited to holiday at the same place twice.
And that was ever a mystery to me. All our friends absolutely adore my wife, and appreciated that she brought food, drinks, bed-linen and towels, and an appropriate hospitality gift to thank our hosts for their graciousness. As a person of some sensitivity and breeding, equally eager to be welcomed, I always tried to conduct myself as a valued guest, too.
That wasn’t as easy as it sounds, though, because it’s difficult to define what makes one welcome. I tended to rely upon the timeworn standards; namely, go only when invited, make suitable noises of appreciation while there, and leave before being asked to.
On one visit, my host confided in me that, “Remember, guests are like fish. After three days, they stink!” On another occasion, a friend (out of earshot of his wife and mine) handed me a roll of toilet tissue, saying, “This is yours. When it’s gone, so are you!” I laughed heartily, sure he was being funny. He wasn’t.
So over time, I came to realize that the things one host might require of me were not the same as that expected by another. Consequently, my relief was immense when I came across a list of ‘do’s and don’ts’ for people planning to visit friends at their cottage. Some twenty-odd items long, the list was chock-full of wonderful suggestions. I spent a good deal of time studying these, and made plans for putting them into practice. My wife merely shook her head; she is prescient, that woman.
Tragically, I came to learn I had wasted my endeavours. On most of our visits, nothing worked as it was supposed to. And because I put forth my utmost efforts, I can only conclude that the list of suggestions was faulty.
Take, for instance, the one that said, “Don’t ask if you can bring some friends.” That made sense to me, so I didn’t ask. I just invited a few people on my own, figuring they’d all get along once they got to know each other. Not so much, as it turned out.
Another suggestion advised, “If there is one bathroom, limit your time in it.” I did. I made a point of rising each morning before anyone else, so I’d be in and out of the bathroom in under half an hour.
One recommendation puzzled me at first, until I realized the limitations of septic tanks. It said, “Do not flush the toilet after every use.” Since everyone seemed comfortable with that, despite the obvious (and odious) disadvantages, I went along with it. I found it necessary, ‘though, to flush each time before I used it.
I was very good, too, about offering to “help with a few of the never-ending chores around the cottage.” I was quick to clean up the wood-stain I spilled; I helped to re-install the screen door I accidentally walked through (the new netting had to be back-ordered); I accompanied my host in his boat to fetch a canoe that drifted away after I forgot to tie it to the dock. The rocky shore it had washed up on scratched its painted finish, but it still floated (thankfully, since I was tasked with paddling it back).
My most heroic effort was when I dove down a number of times, unsuccessfully, trying to retrieve the small outboard motor I inadvertently dropped into the lake. (Damn thing was heavy!) I only stopped because I didn’t like swimming in the gasoline slick that appeared on the surface of the water—although I thought the colours were amazing! The last I heard, the motor was finally located, recovered, and junked.
Ever determined to pointedly follow the advice from my list of ‘do’s and don’ts’, I was hurt when my hosts would decline my offer to “help with barbecuing and barbecuing duties.” I was stunned when they would tell me not to bother to “fill the gas tanks after boating.” And I was positively shocked when they would literally scream at me to “exercise caution when using power tools.” They actually relieved me of the chainsaw I had fired up to cut kindling for the campfire I was planning.
The most hurtful moment came after lunch, on what turned out to be the final day of one such visit. My hosts showed me a piece of cottage etiquette not covered by my list. It said, “If we get to drinking on Sunday afternoon, and start insisting that you stay over until Tuesday, please remember that we don’t mean it!”
Being a person of some sensitivity, as I have said, I eventually came to realize that my efforts to please my hosts were neither understood nor appreciated. Which explains why my wife is still invited to these cottage-getaways—but for what are called girls’ weekends now—while I languish at home.
I really believe someone should revise that misbegotten list!