Come to our house in France, say generous friends, come to Italy, come fishing. ‘How wonderful, what shall we bring?’ Nothing, they reply. They are lying, obviously. Bring cash, a thoughtful present for the house — pillowcases, new books — and your biggest smile. You don’t want the hosts rolling their eyes and punching the air when you drive away down that olive grove.
The thing is, it’s not a hotel. There are people who can be a little peremptory with their friends’ staff. There is no point during the day or night when the dishwasher won’t need emptying and the cook will be delighted if you do that — extra points for cleaning the filter — or lay the table, wash the lettuce or do the bread run before breakfast.
Try to dissuade the children from water bombs and shouty swimming during that post-lunch snoozy hush around the pool. We’ll enjoy little Angelica’s diving later. Perhaps a nice book in the shade for an hour? (No, mine neither.)
Offer to take the household out to dinner. Everything you eat and drink has been thought through, written on lists, bought, carted home, cooked and served for your delight. They’ve earned an evening off.
If there’s more than one of you, hire a car so you can be independent, which your hosts will like. Then at least you’re not always standing around on the terrace with your hat on, bothering someone to drive you to the market/chemist/village.
We all have our little food habits and breakfast can be fraught with drama. No holiday breakfast would be complete without someone opening the fridge door and shrieking. If a child has drunk your almond milk or fed your chia seeds to the birds, keep calm and have a lovely warm white roll with apricot jam like everyone else. You’re on holiday! Things are different there.
Many of us have a pet subject upon which, given a starting pistol and a patient listener, we can drone on a bit. It may be golf, your garden, your children or perhaps you just always know best. Unlike one’s children, who will not hesitate to say: ‘You’ve told me that before,’ your fellow guests may be too polite. If people start slipping sideways off their chairs, it’s a clue.
Try not to tell your host how to drive his boat, even if you are a big dog in the Royal Yacht Squadron. And no bitching around the pool: sound carries nicely over water.
Get the tipping right and if in doubt, ask your host. Happy staff means happy holidays.
Relax. Read a book, paint, play a game. There’s nothing more tiring than someone jingling car keys and asking what today’s plan is. Your hosts have admin to do such as spraying the bugs on the box hedges; they love a guest who can amuse himself, and others. Agree to all plans and last-minute changes with equanimity and they’ll feel it was worth it.
And teenagers: feel free to try any of this at home.