During our 20 years in Cleveland, houseguests were such a rarity (I can’t imagine why) that Rich and I spent days preparing the house, weeks planning ways to entertain them and months afterwards writing to apologize yet again for the dog chewing up their favorite pair of blue jeans. Each visit was a seismic event in our lives. Now that we live in Seville, where we’ve entertained more than 100 guests (although to be fair, a few did stay at a hotel around the corner), we’ve fallen into a practiced routine, like veteran B&B proprietors. One of our checklist items, right up there with sheets, towels and guidebooks, is establishing a departure date.
And before I go any further, let me say that most of our visitors have been perfectly delightful, embracing their brief stay in Seville with enthusiasm, enjoying every activity suggested for their entertainment, amusing us with lively conversation, and being considerate of our time and resources in every possible way. We hated to see them go and hope they’ll return soon, and often.
In some visitors, however, we have not been quite so fortunate.
We’ve hosted couples whose relationship had reached the bitterly acrimonious stage, elderly friends sliding fast into senility, people whose mood-altering medications had recently been adjusted in unfortunate ways, families in shock from ghastly visits with in-laws, and sullen, eye-rolling teens. No matter how disturbed their state of mind, a guest is a guest, and Rich and I strive mightily to be considerate hosts, even on those occasions when, as the saying goes, “Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even though you wish they were.”
Occasionally this has backfired horribly. Twice we’ve had houseguests come for a weekend and stay for nearly two weeks, demanding full-time guest services every day. They kept saying blithely, “I know we had planned to go on to Cordoba, Ronda, and Granada, but you’re just making us so comfortable, we simply can’t bear to tear ourselves away! You don’t mind if we stay another few days, do you? This is such fun! What shall we all do today?”
Raised as we were with stringent standards of hospitality, Rich and I felt we could not simply chuck them bodily out into the street. We gave in with as much grace as we could muster, and they stayed on and on until their non-refundable airline tickets finally forced them to pack their bags and head for home.
One Spanish friend, confronted with this problem, found a solution that was so simple, so elegant and so effective that I can hardly wait until the next guests overstay their welcome so we can try it. In case you’re ever in this position, here’s what he did:
This particular houseguest had spent weeks sleeping on the sofa in the tiny one bedroom apartment where my friend and his girlfriend were living. Despite increasingly broad hints that he move on, the houseguest couldn't be budged. Finally my friend announced he had to go out of town; the houseguest’s suggestion that he stay on, sharing the apartment with the other’s girlfriend, was met with a steely-eyed glare. Reluctantly, the houseguest gathered his things to leave. My friend packed a suitcase, escorted the houseguest to the bus stop, kept walking until he was out of sight, then circled around, went home to his apartment and got on with his life.
See what I mean? Brilliant.
I'm an American writer living in Seville, Spain and traveling the world with my husband, Rich. We've recently completed a five-month Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour, exploring the world's favorite cuisine to discover more about European culture — and our own.
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