I haven’t been able to write for the past two weeks due to an in and out of visitors from America. The combination of being both maid and entertainer is enough by itself to drain me of my energy, but to make matters worse, it’s been 35 degrees nearly every day this week and most days I’ve spent wilted over my desk praying for rain. This is my belated apology to Writer Me and a promise that, starting tomorrow, I’ll be powering through words again.
Despite edging into a full decade of technical adulthood, I still feel in the dark about a lot of things that no adult in my childhood seemed to have problems with. Because I have nothing else of consequence to write about (my thoughts on why I don’t write female protagonists are still so jumbled and convoluted that I feel I should just write a female protag and document my levels of discomfort as I experience them) I’m going to write about my puzzlement with the etiquette of having and being a house guest.
1) I’m not an overly social person to begin with. I’d say I’m a socially awkward penguin except penguins at least are cute (if evil).
2) I’m very territorial over my space. Alex is the only person I’ve been able to live with (4+ years) and not subconsciously mark as an intruder.
What I’m getting at is: having people staying in my house makes me uncomfortable. It’s to be expected though. We live in Japan and our friends are looking for a cheap place to stay while they travel and I really do my best not to bring up my theory on generational couch surfers. If our guests can bring us a few items from America, that’s all the compensation I really need.
However, the last three guests who have stayed in our house have insisted on repaying room and board in a way that sets my hackles on end. So intrusive, so insidious is this method of gratitude that on two occasions I’ve been unable to contain my bark of alarm. Even having the thought process behind the offensive act explained to me, I cannot wrap my head around why anyone, staying as a guest in someone else’s home, would presume to do such a thing.
They have secretly washed my dishes.
Alex thinks I’m crazy for getting so worked up over such a small gesture of thanks, so I’m bringing my neurosis here in the hopes that someone out there in the ether can offer solidarity in this apparently irrational discomfort.
First of all, let me state that I’m not against helping out a host. My parents would both shake their heads in disappointment if I expressed it is the guest’s prerogative to be a loafer for the duration of their stay. I offer to help with the dishes, or clean up a mess whenever I’m a guest at someone’s house. The offer isn’t an empty one, either. I’m perfectly willing to help out with the mess I helped make. However, in my mind, this is how the conversation should go:
Guest: Thanks for that great meal. Can I help you with the dishes?
Host: Oh, no, that’s fine, just sit and relax. I’ll get them later.
Guest: Really? We can get them finished in just a few minutes together.
Host: No, no, really, you’re a guest. Just enjoy your stay.
Guest: Are you sure? I mean, it’s no trou-
Host: More wine?
Guest: If you insist.
To me, this is host/house guest etiquette basics. This is the natural order of things. This ought to be written into scripture for how necessary it is to adult human relationships. The guest offers; the host declines; the host waits until the guest is otherwise occupied before cleaning, so as not to induce feelings of impotence and self-loathing in the guest.
So why do my house guests insist on washing my dishes?! I get it on an intellectual level, but seeing my dishes washed does not make me feel grateful. It doesn’t breed in me feelings of good will and companionship. I do not feel more emotionally bonded to my house guest. I feel, at my most restrained, a coercion to give a teeth-grinding thank you to the offender and repress the desire to wash every dish over again until after they leave.
There are two reasons for this:
First of all, I have a system for all house cleaning, but for dish washing in particular. I have a sponge for washing greasy pots, a sponge for washing glassware and china and a wash cloth for bleaching the counters and disinfecting the stove. A house guest, in their zeal to impress, repay and earn a pat on the back will not know one from another. I’ve gazed at freshly washed dishes in horror while scrambling for a way to feel which cleaning implement is wet without make it obvious to my guest that I’m doing so. And I know I can’t be the only person who cringes at the thought of a dirty bleach rag being used to wash their dishes. Or a greasy sponge wiping over their glasses ware. Or just call me OCD; it won’t be the first time that accusation has been lobbed at me.
Secondly, whenever a stranger to my house cleans, the first message I psychologically receive is not “Thank you for having me, I’ve taken the liberty to wash your dishes as repayment” but “I don’t feel like you’re capable of cleaning your house, so I’m going to do it for you.” Regardless of whether or not anyone who has ever stayed at my house has had this thought or not, this is how it makes me feel.
So please, if you’re a guest in my house it is my duty and honor to see to your comfort and well-being. By all means, offer to help with the chores, but please accept the cheerful, polite refusal and DO NOT WASH MY DISHES.
Also, do not use my shower loofah, but that is a blog rant for another day.