by William Norwich, Vogue
Rain or shine, it is high season for weekends away, but being a houseguest (and being a host for that matter) can be a minefield, can't it? Here, then, are eleven "Do's and "Don'ts" to help negotiate your holiday weekend.
-Do ask what time your host wants you to arrive and always be punctual. Also, determine when your host would like you to leave (usually after lunch on Sunday so your host can enjoy some afternoon downtime before heading back to town) and keep to that schedule, too. Bring a house gift with you but nothing perishable, including flowers-you can send those after you know what doesn't already grow in your host's garden-but instead, something delicious (that can be stored for a later date) or a wonderful picture book. Aerin Lauder suggests bringing along cookies, jams, or nuts, and her favorite go-to shop is Dean & Deluca. "They have great items perfect for any season," she says. If you'd prefer a book, Nostalgia in Vogue is an excellent choice-so transporting, it is its own vacation.
-Don't, while flying to your weekend destination on a friend's plane, discuss aviation safety and any forecasts for stormy weather.
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-Don't, when you are the host, overregiment the weekend's schedule. By the same token, don't leave things too loose. Plan one main event-a dinner party Saturday night for your guests to meet some of your friends, a tennis match with an afternoon luncheon, or a big sail to Block Island-and leave the remainder of the weekend restful, including informally planned breakfasts, lunches, and a Friday supper. For guests, Lauder reminds: "Don't invite people to stop by whom your host doesn't already know."
-Don't outshine your hostess in any way, whether it is what you wear, your jewelry, or how you look in a bathing suit-and always have a cover-up handy, especially when you find yourself alone by the pool with the man of the house. Last, but not least, be measured with the names and places you reference in conversation. For instance, avoid any sentence that begins with: "Last summer, when I was on Charlotte Casiraghi's boat. . . "
-Do try and sleep at least one night in every guest room of your house in advance of your guest's arrival so you know how the room works for company-or doesn't. When preparing the room, leave fresh flowers and picture books, but also consider including a copy of the local newspaper-The East Hampton Star or Vineyard Gazette, for example-to familiarize your guest with the area and its offerings-and maybe even get him or her out of the house to pursue something interesting on Saturday afternoon.
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-Don't discipline your host's children, even when they are about to throw a baseball at the Brancusi by the pool (OK, maybe then you can do something). On the other hand, a really lovely thing to do for your hosts is take their children off to some fun activity like strawberry picking-there's always an orchard somewhere nearby-so the parents can have a few hours of weekend peace.
-Do be mindful, advises Vogue Contributing Editor Plum Sykes, that while naps are permissible for guests during weekends away, napping in a room that isn't your own isn't an option, as happened one weekend at Sykes's country house. "You can't steal away to one of the children's rooms if you are trying to get away from everyone," she says. "This will terrify the child/mother/nanny or whoever comes upon the stranger asleep in the child's bed."
-Don't fail to determine, prior to visiting a friend's family, how formally the house is run by the older generation. Is it possible that someone on the domestic staff will unpack your bag? If so, you do not want anything embarrassing to be found in said suitcase and, even worse-as happened to a friend of mine-laid out on the dresser among ones bangles and brushes.
-Do know that if your host employs any help to run the house or cook the meals, then the proper etiquette-check the books if this one is new to you-is to leave a gratuity. But be absolutely sure to ask your host first if this is acceptable and, if you don't know how much to leave, inquire of other guests how much they have been leaving-not the hostess-so you can be consistent.
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-Don't forget that voices carry. Speak softly and always leave your mobile in your room so you can keep the focus on your hosts (or your guests, as the case may be) and not your texts. The only e-mail that your hosts should be aware of all weekend is the one you send within twelve hours of departure on Sunday to enthusiastically say thank you, followed by a handwritten note and, depending on what you did or did not arrive with, a present that suits the house.
-Do always be of great cheer even in a mistral. Bad weather is a test of character. It's raining? It's pouring? The name of the game is "What Would Stella Tennant Do?" The answer-especially in Scotland where Tennant spends much of her time-is something stylishly serene and witty like baking in the kitchen. A particular favorite recipe of Stella's family's is Malva Pudding. You'll find many recipes online for this dish, but a favorite of Stella's is the one her grandmother makes. Threat of a downpour this weekend? Google "Duchess of Devonshire's Malva Pudding" and it comes right up, thanks to The New York Times. I've made this recipe with friends' children a number of times and, because there is a certain mad-scientist quality to how it all comes together, it never ceases to amaze-rain or shine.
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