IF you entertained a lot this past summer, you doubtless have the ravaged wine rack and scars on your psyche to prove it.
The best guests are a delight: friendly, engaging, interested in everybody around them, considerate and helpful. Most of all, they’re appreciative and often compliment aspects of your life or your city that you take for granted.
The worst guests leave a deep dent in your spirit. Such was the case many years ago when a Parisian friend Stanley had met in Europe as a travelling teenager brought his then-girlfriend to stay with us in Calgary. We were only a couple of years out of university, but we were keen to warmly entertain our guests. “French people -- cool! Let’s pull out all the stops!”
Thus, I ignored the sexy underthings that the tiny, impassive Gallic girlfriend scattered around our one small bathroom. And while our guests made no effort whatever to speak English during their 10-day stay, Stanley and I struggled to communicate with them in our terrible French.
We trotted out the best food we could muster, only to be told repeatedly that all this woman craved was “fromage blanc” and “petits pois.” At the time, “fromage blanc” was not available in Cowtown, Quark wouldn’t do, and since it was September, fresh little peas were also a non-starter.
We drove the couple 140 km. to Banff, expecting they’d be dazzled by the Rocky Mountains, but the woman kept her eyes steadfastly trained on the floor of the car. When invited to marvel, she simply stated “C’est normal.”
Ever-patient (though I’d given up at this point), Stanley drove her and her boyfriend hours north to Drumheller to see the spectacular dinosaur skeletons at the Royal Tyrrell Museum. She somehow got parted from the men at the start, and rather than go through the celebrated collection by herself, she returned to the lobby, solo, to sulk.
I should note that I have a great French friend who could not possibly be a better guest. I’m only dredging up this memory to show that for us, these visitors set the bar so low for houseguests that nobody has limbo’d underneath it since.
Admittedly, however, at a recent beach picnic with unfamiliar out-of-town guests, I fantasized about loading my pockets with their rock-like gluten-free buns and wading glumly into Burrard Inlet -- anything to avoid hearing more about their disturbing family problems, past and current ailments, and a raft of allergies that included potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, shellfish, gluten, dairy, soybeans, sulphites, nuts and wasps.
Nevertheless, it’s always interesting to hear about other people’s appalling guests, like the woman with long grey tresses who wandered around a friend’s kitchen briskly brushing out her locks as everybody was eating breakfast, her hairs surely floating through the air to land on their peanut-buttered toast.
Who doesn’t relish stories about blackguards and blowhards, namedroppers, slobs, cheapskates and guests who put on laughable airs? That doesn’t mean we deliberately invite such people over. Most of us go for guests who are gregarious, generous-minded, humorous and down to earth, assiduously avoiding the other types. Unfortunately, though, they find you anyway.
Just in case a few of your own potential door-darkeners might read this column, here are some general rules for dinner- and houseguests. I invite you to clip this list and stick it conspicuously on your fridge before your next round of visitors.
1. Your colon and its care are not of general interest. This goes quintuple at mealtime.
2. References to your health should not take up more than two minutes of any conversation, unless you actually have a life-threatening illness.
3. Allergies and food intolerances are the least intriguing topic in the history of mankind. It’s fine to mention them well in advance to your host to prevent a 911 call from disrupting dinner, but that is all. Please.
4. Do not disparage your hosts’ pets. Rest assured that if they must choose between you and Rover, Rover will win.
5. If you’ve been speaking on any subject non-stop for more than half an hour, you should have come up for air 25 minutes ago. Don’t soliloquize -- you’re no Shakespeare, so don’t maunder on like Hamlet.
6. Here’s a novel idea. Instead of gassing on about yourself, ask other people questions. Your hosts may seem like boring trolls to you, but they didn’t plan to sit in extended silence while you swilled their Patron and whined about your missed opportunity to be an astronaut.
7. Boasting is always in bad taste. Even if you won the odd Olympic event, there’s no call to go on about it. That includes you, Usain Bolt.
8. If you can’t say anything nice about the food, zip it, you ungracious blockhead.
9. If you can’t show up with a $15 bottle of wine, offer to do the frickin’ dishes.
10. When you’re at a restaurant as somebody’s guest, don’t act like an obnoxious big shot. You’ll embarrass yourself, mortify your host and guarantee that you’ll never be welcome again.