Jane Bradley: Friends and family can be house guests from hell

A survey found that just 33 per cent of people say they enjoy hosting guests. Picture: Sean Bell
A survey found that just 33 per cent of people say they enjoy hosting guests. Picture: Sean Bell
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Friends or family members can turn into house guests from hell if they visit for even the briefest of stays, says Jane Bradley

Living with friends - or acquaintances - for any length of time is always tricky.

Briefly, in university halls of residence, I shared a room with a girl who laid a giant rug between our two beds, taking up 90 per cent of the available floor space. She told me it had great sentimental value and said I should, under no circumstances, ever step on it, forcing me (at least when she was in the room) to clamber over furniture like some kind of parkour professional to access my wardrobe.

I had another flatmate in my student years who insisted on having multiple spares of all necessary cleaning products - in case we ran out in the middle of the night when the shops were closed - and who threw a wobbler if there was so much as a Weetabix crumb on the kitchen counter.

In another shared flat, an emergency house meeting was called when, in the days I cooked and ate with my housemates, I, in blatant disregard of our tight budget, splashed out on a packet of asparagus for one night’s dinner - rather than the Tesco Value frozen peas we usually ate. Thankfully, I still count them among my best friends - we didn’t let a green vegetable come between us.

Yet, according to a survey out this week, it is not just long-term close quarters living which drives us up the wall - even temporary overnight guests can rankle with some people.

A study from blindmaker Hillarys of all people, found that three quarters of people say they have friends or family members whose habits annoy them when they visit, with around one in five admitting they have acquaintances who are no longer welcome to their home.

Meanwhile, one in ten people say they have been told they should not return to someone else’s place as a houseguest, suggesting, statistically, at least, that some of the same people must be unwelcome in more than one house.

The things which annoy the general public about house guests are quite specific - with refusing to take off shoes at the front door top of the list as the irritant for a quarter of hosts. Helping themselves to food from the fridge or cupboards without asking irritates 17 per cent of people, while taking control of what is playing on the TV or stereo annoys a further 14 per cent.

Perhaps surprisingly, noisy houseguests or those with unruly children are an irritation for only a small number of people - four per cent and three per cent respectively.

A further six per ent say they find it annoying when guests overstay their welcome, while some intolerant hosts can’t stand it when visitors dare to use the upstairs or en suite bathroom in their house. They should count themselves lucky that they’ve got options of different bathrooms to choose from, I say.

In fact, the survey found, just 33 per cent of people say they actively enjoy hosting house guests, while 15 per cent are indifferent to the experience. The remaining 52 per cent positively hate it.

If you can’t cope with having your space invaded, perhaps inviting anyone to stay is a bad idea - but even for the most welcoming hosts, there are some people’s habits which just cannot be tolerated.

My friend recalls the house guests from England (distant friends of her husband) who arrived with their own personal stash of teabags - bog standard Tetley no less - because they “couldn’t be sure” that they would be provided with them at their house. The same couple, who spent the entire weekend grumbling about the bad Scottish weather, graciously sent a thank you card after they left, calling my friend by entirely the wrong name.

The actions of one environmentally aware houseguest recently left another friend in a tricky situation after the visitor conscientiously went round her house unplugging everything she thought was unnecessarily using up electricity. Unfortunately, one of the things she unplugged was the charger for my friend’s motorised wheelchair, meaning she was left stranded after running out of power while shopping in town - and was forced to call for help to be able to travel home.

“To be honest I can laugh (a bit) about it now,” she told me, the night after it happened. I’m glad she can - I’m not sure I’d have been quite so forgiving in the circumstances.

However, turning the tables on the houseguests from hell, researchers asked all participants what it was about staying at a friend or family member’s house that they disliked the most, with “strict rules” coming out as the most common answer.

And I suppose that is fair enough. We’ve all stayed in those bed and breakfasts with the hundreds of tiny notices telling us not to put glasses down without a coaster, make sure we don’t leave the light on for more than 14 and a half minutes and that tea should only be drunk in the room on a Tuesday between 11am and 1pm.

Too many rules are restrictive and not what you’d expect to find when staying with good friends, while it is perhaps par for the course if you opt to pay for a room at the mercy of an eccentric B&B owner with a God complex.

This summer, we are spending most of our holidays staying with - or going away with - various groups of friends. Throw various children into the mix for most of us and we have the perfect recipe for house guest disaster. I’ll have to make sure we’re all on our best behaviour.

We’re even going on a weekend away with the former housemates who called the emergency vegetable meeting 15 years ago. I’ll just have to make sure that asparagus is not on the menu.