Being a Good Houseguest

Katie Couric
Katie's Take

Katie's Take

There's an old saying, "Houseguests are like fish. After three days they start to stink."

I enjoy having my friends and family stay with me, but I do realize it can be stressful on either side of the welcome wagon…as a host or a guest. You certainly don't want a faux pas to ruin your weekend—or worse, your friendship—so it's important to learn a thing or two about proper etiquette. I asked Philip Galanes, New York Times columnist and author of "Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today," for a few pointers.

One of Philip's key pieces of advice is to help out. Don't just ask, "Can I help with anything?" Most hosts are far too polite to take you up on that offer. Rather, Philip says to get in there, start peeling potatoes, washing dishes, or go walk the dog. Your host will be grateful that you took the initiative and pitched in.

When you're visiting a new place, your host will certainly want to show you around and give you tips on cool places to go. However, they are not your personal concierge for the weekend. You might be on vacation, but they aren't. Make yourself scarce occasionally. Go read in the bedroom, take a walk in town, disappear for a few hours so they can get their laundry done, pay their bills, or have quiet time of their own.

When it comes to thanking your host, Philip says avoid the temptation to bring a smelly candle or an entire shelf of products from The Body Shop. A simple, handwritten "thank you" note will suffice, or a gift they can really use like a bottle of wine or a basket of fruit.

On the flip side, the key to being a good host is preparation. You want to avoid awkward moments like running out of toilet paper or having no soap in the bathroom. Set up the guest room beforehand. Get rid of whatever stuff you stash in there, put some shampoo in the shower and stock the kitchen with basics like milk, bread, and coffee.

If both guest and host do their parts, the only thing that will stink after three days is the scented candle.