Entertaining Tips
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Question and Answer ArticleThe Helpful Guest

By Cherie Parker
Published: June 1, 2006
Q: We love entertaining at our cabin, but we are getting tired of some guests who walk up to us on Sundays with bags packed telling us they are all ready to go, as my husband and I have sweat dripping from our brows, broom and cleaning equipment in hand. How do we politely let these guests know that they should take a good look around, or their lack of helpfulness with the necessary chores has put them on the “do not invite” list?
– Name withheld by request

A: Miss Manners would probably say that guests are guests and the host and hostess should happily provide for the comfort of all taking shelter beneath their roof. But that’s easy to say from a desk at the Washington Post. Things look a little different when your deck is full of wet, sandy beach towels and there are half-full soda cans on every counter, bench or stump on your property.
   
Is there any way to politely ask guests to pitch in? Probably not.

You might drop a gentle hint when the invitation is extended. “We’d love to have you at the cabin next weekend,” you might say. And then: “How early can you come? We want to have plenty of fun time before the clean-up party Sunday afternoon.”
   
Guests will be more likely to clean up after themselves if the tools for self-sufficiency are obvious. Label drawers and cabinets so contents can be easily replaced. Put clearly marked recycling bins out for those endless pop and beer cans and bottles. And make sure the cleaning supplies are visible and self-explanatory; a toilet brush and bathroom cleaner placed discreetly yet purposefully next to the toilet can speak volumes about personal responsibility.
   
Some cabin owners have had success posting extensive signage and lists, but this can offend some guests. You can’t treat all your guests as equals, either. You probably want to give some guests a pass on hard labor (say, Grandma or new friends you don’t know intimately yet) and prod others into action with the pokey end of a broom (your adult children).
   
You may have to examine how realistic your own expectations are as well. How much can you honestly expect from people who – even allowing for the casualness of cabin life – are clearly visitors in your world? It’s possible you are simply inviting more guests, more often, than you can comfortably handle. Perhaps your instinct to cut back on invitations to high-maintenance guests could save your sanity.
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