I have recently been a houseguest. I like to think of myself as a good houseguest. (Well, in reality I like to think of myself as the best houseguest, but my new year’s resolution is to exaggerate less, after an unfortunate incident recently when I told a small child that I was ‘the best diver’, and was then roundly beaten by her 6 year old brother). Being a good houseguest is an invaluable skill, but one that can be very easily learnt. Here are some rules:
1. Be great at small talk. Some people think that small talk is the exchange of tiny portions of unchallenging information. This is not true at all. Small talk is a cut-throat, merciless division of people into ‘interesting’ and ‘boring, avoid at all costs’. Good initial questions include: in your opinion, who in this room is most likely to go to prison? And what for? (The answers to this will also be extremely useful when approaching other guests for loans etc).
2. Play with any local children. (‘Local’ has a very specific designation in this case. Do not go trawling the neighborhood looking for children to play with). Playing with the children not only impresses their relatives, it also offers you the chance to gain invaluable information about the other houseguests. Children are famously indiscreet. (And short, so look down when walking about the house to avoid stepping on them. This will undermine all good work done during playtime).
3. Don’t offer to help. Everyone offers to help. Simply take it upon yourself to do something helpful, like pouring drinks, or re-organizing their knicker drawer.
4. Bring a gift. The best gifts are attention-seeking, luxurious and enormous. A life-size paper-mache elephant head, or a fluorescent weather-vane ought to do the trick.