The Pleasant Times' Etiquette Lady
As the weather is warming up, and people are coming out of their winter hibernation, social events are cropping up on the calendars. Here is a little reminder on one facet of being a good guest.
During large events, when the hostess is busy and the other guests are mingling, there are sometimes children (and the occasional grown-up) who will take off to roam the house unaccompanied and without permission, opening doors and poking their head into closets. These people are not lost; they just were not taught to control their curiosity. Children can cause mass destruction; adults can be just plain snoopy (though this sounds like crazy behavior for an adult, it is sadly common among people who no longer understand privacy or private property).
If you are invited to someone else's home, here's a tip to add to your company manners: unless you as a guest are invited to enter certain areas, it is best to consider them "off limits" and to be cautious about where you go in someone else's house.
The same philosophy belongs to the hosts' children, their pets, and their possessions.
I have seen "please don't touch the baby" signs; this is a good idea for some situations. Babies can be made to fuss all day long when they have been passed from person to person, handled and bounced roughly when they object to being held by a stranger, or have their personal space invaded by people pinching their cheeks and poking their tummy. Please ask if you can hold the baby, and respect the mother's right to refuse you.
Be cautious about your hosts' pets. Lots of hosts put their dogs in one room or one end of the house, to keep them from barking at guests. Sometimes the hostess will put a house cat in another room, to keep it from escaping out the front door. A wandering guest could cause trouble by opening doors and letting pets out. If you are an expert on birds, don't invite yourself to open the birdcage and handle the parakeets-- please ask first! Some pets do not want to be touched by strangers; be cautious before "loving" on someone else's animal!
And lastly, respect your hosts' possessions. When the host and hostess say "make yourself at home," they mean "get that relaxed feeling, as if you were at home". They do not mean "pretend this is your house, and do what you want with it." Do not feel free to move their decor, put your feet on the furniture, snoop in drawers, open closets, go through their stack of mail, and the like.
If you are a host or hostess, you can certainly let the guests know that they are free to explore the house, if that is what you want. If that is not the case, most of us are too shy to say "please sit in this room and don't leave it!" This is where placing a "private" sign on the doors may help. For children who cannot read, or don't care to pay attention, a polite word to the parents at the start of the visit may be in order: "The children may play in the living room and the porch area." You could just hope that your wishes will be respected, but personally, I think locking doorknobs (with keys in the possession of the hostess) may be the best idea for those who entertain frequently.
So be a good guest, and respect the homeowner's privacy!
*I realize that in this day and age, keeping a messy room private does not jive with the "be honest, be vulnerable, let it all hang out" philosophy of the times. Blocking off a messy room is not snobbery, or trying to give a false view of your home. It may be that the hostess is embarrassed because she did not have time to clean the rest of the rooms; there are still people who believe in the old-fashioned concept of taking pride in your housework. It could also be that you, as an honored guest, should be treated with the best that the hostess has to offer, be it the best food she can present, the most comfortable seat, and yes, the best rooms.