Some people are just natural hosts. Then there are the rest of us.
We yearn to be invited to somebody else's house for holiday dinners and parties and weekends and pretty much anything. And to be invited back again — and again.
While there's an entire industry out there telling us how to be a good host — hello, Martha Stewart — where's the info about being a good guest?
The first step to becoming everyone's favorite guest is to bring a good present (or send one afterward). The second rule is make the present more interesting than a bottle of wine, a handful of flowers or some dopey dust catcher they'll shove in a drawer or re-gift.
Mind you, not everyone agrees with me on this. Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of etiquette czarina Emily Post (emilypost.com) says a gift is "nice but not required." I say if you want to be sitting at that holiday table next year, bring one. And put some serious thought into it.
Some suggestions: Most people think their pets and kids are pretty special, and deserving of much fawning and attention. So you can't go wrong with presenting a little something for them instead of some lame host or hostess offering. If you're wily, it will be something that will occupy the little darlings' time (a game, coloring or activity book, crayons or colored pencils; a dog toy or treat or a kitty catnip tchotchke).
And you can never have too many interesting picture frames, so choose one and put a picture in there of a previous holiday gathering at your hosts' home — if you have one — and you're sure to get invited again. (And bring your camera to the next dinner, so you'll have the photo ready for the ensuing holiday invite.)
On this page I've assembled some frugal options, all under $25, to get your gift-giving brain cells percolating. The common element that unites the disparate presents is shopping at unique stores or browsing the big box places with a fresh eye and thinking not just about the grownups but the little critters too.
Oh, and send a thank-you note. It's old-fashioned and surprising. That's why it's such a good idea.
How to get invited back
Here's a checklist formulated with the help of etiquette expert Anna Post.
•Be on time for a seated dinner. There's a 15-minute grace period. After that, call if you're running late. And insist that they start dinner without you.
•There are no taboo tabletop topics anymore, but why risk unpleasantness? Remember: Not everyone thinks as you do about politics, religion, current events.
•If you really detest dogs or kids, find a different table to mooch at.
•Bring a gift (or send one later).
•If you're bringing flowers, arrange in a vase first.
•Don't expect the host to serve the wine or food you bring unless previously discussed.
•Big or small party, always thank the hosts before you leave.
•Not required, but a thank-you note is always welcome.
And overnight visitors …
•Set arrival and departure times before you get there; three days is the standard max stay.
•Ask, "Where can I put the sheets and towels?"; when in doubt, strip the bed and remake with bedspread only.
•Leave no bad surprises; always ask ("Where is the toilet plunger?"); clean hair out of shower drain; leave everything as you found it.
•Thank hosts lavishly in person and in writing.