Post-Sandy: Etiquette for guests and hosts

For an extended stay, it may be helpful

For an extended stay, it may be helpful to work out an agreement on meal planning and preparation. (Credit: Fotolia)

Since superstorm Sandy hit, thousands of Long Islanders have left their homes to stay with family, friends and distant relatives, many taking their pets with them.

Ellen and Darren Solomon of Merrick lost part of their waterfront home in the storm. Since being rescued by boat, the couple, their two children and their dog have been guests at four different homes.

"We were so grateful," says Ellen, 45, a stay-at-home mother. "No one expected anything in return from us, and friends of ours who don't even have pets welcomed my dog, Lily."

Staying at someone else's house can bring out stress under any circumstances, let alone as a result of a natural disaster. However, it is more critical than ever during tense and emotional times for a host and guest to try and stick to some form of decorum, says Faye Rogaski, founder of Manhattan-based Socialsklz, a program that teaches individuals the tools to thrive in the modern world.

When in doubt, follow the golden rule, advises Cheryl Lee, director of Elmont-based The Etiquette and Protocol Centre of Long Island, a company that offers programs on social and corporate etiquette training: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

"Both guest and hosts have responsibilities and duties," says Lee, who followed her own advice post-Sandy when her son and daughter-in-law, two grandchildren and in-laws moved into her Elmont home temporarily. "Both parties should be attentive, sensitive to personal space and flexible for all needs."

Lee says she tried to make her houseguests as comfortable as possible, but was sensitive to the fact that they were in a strange place. She says she tried to make sure that everything was accessible to them. "I also respected their need for privacy," she says.

Here's more advice for those who find themselves in unusual living arrangements following the storm:

ADVICE FOR THE GUEST

Being respectful of the host's home is key -- keep personal belongings tucked away or neatly organized, clean up after yourself and do your own laundry, particularly if you will be there for an extended stay, says Lizzie Post, co-author of "Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition" (William Morrow, $39.99) and the great-great-grandaughter of etiquette maven Emily Post. "Be proactive," she says. "Offer to help out and ask about any rule or preferences your host may have."

A nice gesture that is always appreciated, she explains, is to purchase groceries or take your hosts out to dinner.

For an extended stay, it may be helpful to work out an agreement on meal planning and preparation. For instance, if you stay for a month, then you might purchase groceries weekly and alternate cooking duties nightly.

During your stay, it is OK to enjoy yourself, too (minus the guilt).

"Take your host up on any hospitality that she offers that you'd like to enjoy -- a hot soak in the tub, a slice of that chocolate cake she mentioned," Post says.

It is also important to be considerate and spend some time away from the house to give the host some downtime, too. "Go for a walk or out for a meal, or to a movie, something that gives both you and your host a little break from being host and guest," she adds.

Expressing gratitude to the host for their hospitality on a daily basis despite the turmoil can go a long way, says Rogaski. "If you are able, ask to assist with day-to-day chores and expenses." If you cannot do that, acknowledge your host's generosity.

Make sure to let your host know when you may be returning to your home or what the plan is, she says.

ADVICE FOR THE HOST

Any host would want to make sure that their guests feel welcome, but to avoid an uncomfortable situation it is advisable to let the guests know what is expected from the start.

"Show them where everything is, provide them with towels and bedding and let them know what the house rules are," says Post.

It is key to discuss the start and end date, or to have a new dialogue if things are still up in the air.

To create order and less stress, Rogaski encourages the host to create a household list of do's and don'ts for anyone visiting or staying in their home. "Add a little humor to the list, but most importantly, lay out your expectations," she says.

Having visitors can be challenging at times, but it is important to be empathetic and supportive. "You might feel like exploding, but it's stressful for everyone and it won't help. Remember, this, too, shall pass," Rogaski says.

She also stresses the importance of a host having his or her limitations.

"While you are trying to be helpful, remember to say, 'No,' if you are asked for something that will be too difficult or that you are unable to follow through with," she adds.

Showing your gratitude

A good houseguest does give his or her host a gift, says etiquette expert Lizzie Post. This can include a night out during the visit, a gift sent after the visit or something the guest selects and purchases while visiting. The gift should be accompanied by a handwritten thank-you note.

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