Playing Hostess (without Feeling Hustled)

I recently had a friend and her mother visiting me from overseas. Before they came, I told my friend that I would have to study for final exams during her visit. She said that she and her mother would be happy to entertain themselves. But the minute they got here, they began to ask me, "What's the plan?" They took no initiative in doing things themselves, and I wound up playing tour guide for the entire week -- and blowing off my studies. I also spent a lot of money on tourist attractions, dinners out and groceries. To make matters worse, I haven't heard a word from my friend since they were here. I feel used. How can I prevent this from happening again? --sanfrangirl

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Dear sanfrangirl:

You were used. And I'll bet that your guests are clueless about it. The world would be a far more harmonious place if guests understood that they are responsible for contributing to the visit as much as hosts are. In fact, one hallmark of a good guest is self-sufficiency combined with enthusiasm. It's fair for a guest to ask a host to recommend activities and sightseeing excursions, but it's not always fair to expect the host to participate and pay for them, especially when the guests are basically camping out at the host's home to save money on hotel bills.

Apparently, your guests did not get the message that you had to study. Perhaps they also just didn't believe it because: a) you agreed to let them visit during exam time, or b) you were so self-effacing when they showed up that it didn't seem as if your studies required your attention any longer. In other words, you didn't communicate clearly. Or perhaps you did and they chose not to hear. It happens.

Looking back, you might have done some homework and planning. Of course, that would have taken an up-front investment of time on your part. However, it most likely would have paid off when the visit actually rolled around. For example, you might have sent them a calendar with the times you would not be available clearly blocked off. That would have indicated your available time for group activities. You also could have sent them some information pamphlets about your town, the surrounding areas and points of interest. Just about every town's chamber of commerce will provide that material for free. It's always helpful when someone who knows a place recommends "must-see" sites. A system of colored sticky notes can rank them, such as yellow for "don't miss," pink for "try to see," etc. The price of admission can be tallied on the post-its, too. For example, your note might have said something like, "I've calculated that if you do all the 'don't misses,' you'll be out of pocket around $50."

In the future, in similar situations, if you send these things plenty of time in advance, you also can write to your guests shortly before their arrival to say, "I'd like it if you'd give me an idea of how you've arranged your schedule so I can plan whatever time we'll have together." Then, if possible, I recommend spending at least two festive meals together, even if all you do is order from a local deli. Block out some time right at the start to welcome your guests and catch up. Then, midway through their visit, make sure to dine together again so you can offer sightseeing advice and also share their stories.

Sounds as if you'll not be extending another invitation to this duo anytime soon. I can't say I blame you; their guest manners really don't warrant such a nice gesture on your part. So chalk it up to a lesson learned, let go of expecting a thank-you, and move forward a little bit wiser.

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