Fortunately, many of us have fabulous friends who want to share their stunning country houses, estates, private islands, beaches, and boats with us – we are, after all, civilised beings. But we worry that they think we should be doing more, and perhaps visibly more grateful for us sitting down three times a day at their glittering tables.
The secret is you really only must provide the wind that fills the sails of a ship called fun. You must help your host to make the other guests happier – with whatever it takes. But you must not suck up. Our fab friends with fab houses haven’t got there by being stupid, and they appreciate plain speaking, offset by genuine appreciation.
Only accept a house party invitation if you actually like your host in the first place. Remember: by luxuriating in the largesse they have bestowed upon you, you will give them something money can’t buy – happiness.
How much sponging can you do to your rich pals, without completely humiliating yourself?Frankly, quite a lot, as long as you pay for your own airfares, tips and a well-chosen present. You need not pay for lunch for 20 in the Gstaad Palace when at a house party over the holidays, but you can go to the supermarket on cook’s day off, prepare lunch and serve it. You can offer to hire a car at the airport so you can help with ferrying the house party around.The main way you can make the relationship more equal is by being a good guest. You can start by saying ‘yes, please’ or ‘no, thank you’ quickly. Here are the rules:
Do bring an amusing gift – cheap and funny is better than posh and dull.
Do be up for anything.
Do look for the good in all fellow guests.
Do be grateful.
Do go with the flow, and make sure you find the local bigwig neighbours interesting, whether they are or not.
When you are told which airport to arrive at and at what time, do it.
If you put your drink down for more than a minute, do remember to check there are no cigarette butts in it before taking another quaff.
Do ask what clothing will be necessary or appropriate. If it’s black tie or smoking jackets, or shooting kit you haven’t got, buy or borrow it.
Do approach the housekeeper privately to enquire if you could have a second pillow or even an overflow ‘snoring room’. Or anything else, but never ask your host.
Do hold a wine glass at the stem. This is to avoid heating the liquid. Remember that wine should only be poured to just underneath the widest part of the glass. And if you are wearing lipstick, be sure to drink from the same place on the glass each time in order to not create a “lipstick ring” around the glass.
Do write instantly on return.
Don’t be boring; and don’t get sick.
Don’t kiss at the table.
Don’t have any food intolerances.
Don’t ask who else will be coming.
Don’t break things.
Don’t pass out in their bed. If you do, leave as soon as you wake up. Do not hang around the next day. Unless, of course, the party is still going strong – then it’s your call.
When the host says the party is over – it’s over. If the host shuffles you out but seems to be letting others stay – tough luck, your time is over. LEAVE.
Meanwhile, the experienced ‘have-not’ house guests have learned which token gestures of contribution not to make. Never offer to pay for ‘one lunch out’ for the entire house party. What if your host suggests the Gstaad Palace? Or worse, you don’t even run it by them, you ask for the bill, you pay – even though you will have to take out a new mortgage – and then your host doesn’t even notice. Beware this gesture. Very often the host’s butler has rung ahead and given credit-card details to the restaurant, so no bill would have been presented in the first place.
The host ultimately doesn’t mind that much if you can come or not – but do not keep him or her waiting for a decision for more than a week so they can invite someone else who will blend comfortably into their human house-party cocktail.
Don’t forget to let your host know if you have decided to hire a car (which can make you feel less imprisoned) instead of using the thoughtful limo they have sent for you, because little things like limos coming back empty can be really annoying.
You can’t refuse to take part in after-dinner games, or visits to gothic cathedrals because you don’t like the gothic style. And you can’t go to bed early – don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time for an afternoon siesta to ready you to stay up till 3am, dancing to the band your host has arranged.
FOUR EXTRA RULES:
When asked, ‘Did you sleep well?’, always say ‘Yes, brilliantly,’ even if sharing with your husband is not something you are used to. On no account go into a long story about how you woke up at 3am and then at 5am.
Fold your napkin in half, with the crease facing you. Don’t place your napkin in your lap until the hostess does, as soon as they sit. When you need to wipe your hands or mouth, wipe inside the fold so the mess doesn’t get on your clothes.
Your knife stays in your right hand, your fork in your left. Yes, even when you’re taking a bite. Put food on the backside of the fork to eat. Same rules — three bites, then rest — apply. When you are finished eating, lay your silverware diagonally across the plate: handles at 4:20 and knife blade facing in.
Never announce you’re going to the ladies’ room. Instead, simply excuse yourself. As you get up from the table, lay your napkin on the table gently.