Jane Bradley: The problem with house guests

"The renting-a-room idea brings many challenges and irritations." Picture: Ian Georgeson

"The renting-a-room idea brings many challenges and irritations." Picture: Ian Georgeson

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WE’VE all had a difficult house guest. We’ve all probably been one, too. There’s the ones who outstay their welcome, the ones with bizarre personal habits and those who think a friend’s flat comes with a round-the-clock free maid service.

I once agreed that a friend’s German biker sort-of boyfriend could kip on my sofa for a brief period when he was passing through town. Two weeks later, his giant Doc Martens were still taking up residence in my hall and the sounds of Rammstein reverberated around the flat every morning at 6am.

In my student days, another visitor, who still lived with his parents, seemed to expect that I would slot into the role vacated by his mother: 24-hour-a-day tidying, fresh coffee brought to him every morning and tasty, home-cooked meals served at 6pm on the dot. He has, thankfully, since been well housetrained by someone else who is not his mum – and is all the better for it.

There was another house guest who, on a night out, decided to stay in the pub long after we’d gone home and then called us to pick him up in the early hours – drunk off his face and with no idea where we lived – two hours before I had to get up for a crack-of-dawn shift at work.

Despite these minor misdemeanours, I still wouldn’t change my love of random house guests for the world. Over the years, our sofa bed has been occupied by a string of friends, and friends of friends, from all over the globe. We’ve made some great new friendships, cemented others and sworn never to contact some visitors ever again.

This week, accommodation site Airbnb, which thrives on the idea of loving living with a random, teamed up with etiquette experts Debretts to help people maintain harmony when living at close quarters.

Airbnb allows people to rent out a spare room in their home – or even their entire property – on a short-term basis. Of course, while a great concept, the renting-a-room idea brings many challenges and irritations. The guide aims to smooth over those tricky situations that arise when staying in someone else’s home – for both host and guest.

Of course, Airbnb has hit the headlines in the past for some disastrous situations that could not be made right by any guide. There was the guest who turned a host’s Swedish apartment into a brothel, and a host in San Francisco who had her personal belongings trashed and stolen. Indeed, there is always potential for insanity when you trust a stranger with your living arrangements.

In Bratislava in the late 90s, when Airbnb was not even a twinkle in its founder’s eye, my friends and I spent a night at the home of a nice lady we met at the train station. The price was cheap, the room was fine, so we dumped our bags and headed out into the city for dinner.

When we returned, we discovered a large man asleep in one of our beds. Our host was nowhere to be seen. We engaged the assistance of a passing couple who spoke English, who helped us evict the disgruntled sleeping giant: at which point, the host returned, screaming in Slovak. She was outraged we had tried to chuck out her friend – a lorry driver who needed somewhere to lay his head for a few hours – on to the street. We were out, she reasoned, so why should he not borrow our beds while we were gone?

Assuming the vast majority of people’s rental experiences are less bizarre, the guide does have some sensible suggestions. It tells visitors to refrain from poking around in other people’s private space and says hosts should make their expectations of shoe removal, punctuality, etc, clear from the off. And that mobile phone use should be kept to a minimum.

Finally, guests should ensure that nothing is left behind when they vacate a room. “Wet towels, dirty teacups and overlooked possessions (stray socks, mobile phone chargers) should all be eradicated,” Debretts says. Basically, any house guest should be as unobtrusive as possible.

With this in mind, I’d like to offer a word of apology to my mother-in-law, who sent the following message to my husband after a recent visit: “You left behind a sweater with a huge hole in one sleeve, so I’ve darned it. There was also a pair of Jane’s underwear and one of your socks in the bedroom, which I’ve washed and sent back to you in the same parcel.” Oops.

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