Dear Uncommon Courtesy,
So, my question involves good guest etiquette. I stayed with friends recently and they cooked me a meal when I arrived. Afterwards, I offered to do the dishes. There were already dishes from earlier in the day stacked near the sink, but I decided to leave those and just washed ours from the dinner.
Then, last week my boyfriend and I stayed with a friend and again, a dinner was cooked for us. My boyfriend however, did ALL the dishes around, including some dirty pots from way before our arrival. Now I feel guilty, should I have washed all the dishes at my friend’s place before? Is that good guest behaviour? My boyfriend says he did it to be nice and he doesn’t think anyone should have to do extra dishes, but am totally paranoid now.
The original Emily Post book and other similar books assume all houses have servants, so would never even think to cover such an issue (though, if there are servants, definitely don’t volunteer to do dishes!). The current Emily Post Institute doesn’t go into such detail, but they suggest volunteering for very specific tasks in the kitchen and not hanging around trying to pounce on chores.
Victoria: Okay, so at first I thought that this was a one-off dinner, in which case I would say it’s kind of weird to offer to do the dishes instead of bringing a bottle of wine or other hostess gift. But, she seems to have been staying with these friends.
Jaya: Right. So I get the “If you let me sleep on your couch, I’ll do chores” thing. Which is a great thing to do if you’re staying with someone.
Victoria: Totally! And I think it was okay and understandable to just do the dishes from that meal.
Jaya: Especially since the dishes were stacked “near” the sink. If you removed dishes from the sink, didn’t do them, and put them back later, that is weird. But this seems fine.
Victoria: However, personally, I think if you are going to do something, you might as well complete the task. And that means doing all the dishes that are around, wiping down the counters, etc.
Jaya: Yeah! So based on that, I don’t think this is that strange. She shouldn’t feel guilty. But yeah, I would probably have just done all of them.
Victoria: And you could always ask—especially if they are pots or pans that might need special care, you know?
Jaya: Oh yeah. Perhaps they were on the side for a reason. But I don’t think this is necessarily good guest behavior v. bad guest behavior. She still sounds like a good guest. She did dishes!
Jaya: So she shouldn’t feel guilty. No one would fault her on this. But maybe in the future, just do all the dishes. It’s just easier and more considerate to get it done in one swoop.
Now, when you’ve done the dishes, do you then put them away? Or leave them out? I know a lot of people who are particular about where their dishes go. Whenever my grandmother would visit us growing up, she’d do the dishes, and then it’d be a couple days before we found everything and put it back where it should go.
Ohh, good question. I mean, if they have a dish washer, I would just load it and run it and then let it be. If hand washing, I would leave things in the rack to dry. But if you did dry them, I guess you could try to put away the really obvious things like plates and silverware and then ask where everything else goes? If you are the host, I would just tell people to leave things out and let me put them away later. Or come in and help, like they dry and you put away.
I agree- it would be my 1st reaction to just finish the entire task of the dishes as an extra gesture of courtesy, however I completely do not fault anyone for leaving the prior dishes aside. One time as a house guest, I cooked eggs and proceeded to wash the dishes I had just used and noticed a dirty pan on the side of the sink. Instinctively I started to wash that pan too, but was informed by the host that she had left that aside on purpose for the oil to harden because they had a septic system and couldn’t wash oil down the drain. Oops!