The New Rules for Cottage Guests (and the New Rules for Cottage Hosts)
Times have changed at the cottage and faster than you may have realized. There are new gizmos, new blights, new diseases, new perils of all sorts. All of these create both new pressures and new opportunities for cottage guests. There are more wrong things that can be done, more ways to avoid being invited back. That may be what you want, of course.
Early in the nineties, a list of rules I wrote for cottage guests was published in Cottage Life and subsequently republished in a book called How to Be Not Too Bad, a Canadian version of those ubiquitous guides to excellence. Most of the rules still apply, but progress has brought about a need for modifications. To refresh your memory, here are the old rules for cottage guests, juxtaposed with the new ones.
1. (The old rule) Don’t expect your hosts to meet you on time. Their metabolism has slowed, and they have lost their sense of urgency.
1. (The new rule) Don’t phone from the car. They went to the cottage to get away from people who phone from the car.
2. Do not feel it is necessary to show up in nautical gear.
2. Tilley hats are for amateurs. The proper cottage hat has an unfamiliar logo and grease stains, to show that you’re prepared to get dirty. You can still hope that nobody takes you up on it.
3. Comment only favourably upon the cottage and its surroundings, avoiding words such as quaint and cute.
3. What you really want to know about the cottage is what it cost. You are not allowed to ask, although that information may well be volunteered. If the cottage is so modern it doesn’t look like a cottage at all, don’t say that. No matter how comfortable the cottage is, its occupants want to feel they are roughing it.
4. Do not feel that you have to comment upon everything, even favourably.
4. That lovely piece of driftwood may have cost several thousand dollars at a downtown gallery. Don’t ask who dragged it in off the beach.
5. Normal rules of conversation apply: Dinner is not “grub”; a beer before dinner is not a “drinkie-poo.”
5. Cottage food is often simpler and need not be analyzed in detail. The same goes for wine.
6. Dinner table conversation is about what happens at the cottage, not what happens at the office.
6. Never, under any circumstances, look at your BlackBerry when others are watching. Never, under any circumstances, talk about what you just saw when you looked.
7. Unless otherwise instructed, help with the dishes. Comments about the lack of a dishwasher are not helpful.
7. Just because dinner is over, doesn’t mean you can turn on your cellphone. Don’t forget to volunteer to empty the dishwasher.
8. Sex is permissible, but walls are thin.
8. Cottage bathrooms, if there are any, are communal. Govern yourself accordingly. Don’t leave your Viagra on the counter.
9. The only answer to “How did you sleep?” is “Fine.”
9. An equally relevant reply is that your back feels much better. You might be tempted to discuss what you’ve been working on at the gym, but avoid the temptation. If (see rule 10), you are reluctant to talk about your back, talk about what a fine day it looks like it will be. This, however, is not the time to talk about how your cellphone is so great that you can get the Weather Network on it and you know what the forecast is. Don’t tell, unless you can make your forecast sound like you got it from looking at cloud formations and testing the wind with your finger.
10. Suss out quickly whether your hosts expect you to participate in work projects. Don’t suggest any of your own (they may already have been done, only badly).
10. Too bad you mentioned how much better your back is feeling.
11. Avoid comparisons with the docks, boats, children, dogs, fish, canoes, and other features you have seen at other cottages.
11. That fascinating article you read in Cottage Life about the ideal septic system — keep it to yourself.
12. Size up the prevailing ethic — are you here for loud fun, quiet naps, reading, drinking, working? Then conform.
12. You may have to spend a weekend without high-speed Internet. Suck it up.
13. Try to interact peaceably and not judgmentally with the host’s children, no matter what their chosen forms of activity.
13. This is not the time to discuss the new parenting philosophy you stumbled across on the Internet. Nor is it the time to apply it.
14. Be prepared to play games after dinner. Every cottage has them.
14. Two things: First, games that are on your cellphone don’t count. Second, winning should not be too important to you at the cottage. However, if you want to win, go easy on the wine.
The rules for cottage hosts
Guests are not the only people with responsibilities at the cottage. Hosts also have the ability to ruin everything. There are rules for them too:
1. (The old rule) Stop bragging about the scenery. You didn’t invent it.
1. (The new rule) Stop bragging about how you improved on the scenery. Some people liked that tree where it was.
2. You don’t have to show guests photographs of the cottage. They are at it.
2. If your cottage doesn’t have a website yet, don’t worry. Your guests might find that refreshingly primitive.
3. Let guests know what the house rules are. Do you always flush? Do you like raccoons? Don’t let your guests violate some unwritten rule and then laugh at them for it.
3. It’s really important to warn guests that they are in for a vegetarian weekend, and that the kids are never told to wait.
4. Don’t tease them about sleeping in if you didn’t warn them that you get up early.
4. If you got up early to check your messages, spare your guests the details.
5. The rules of badminton and cribbage don’t change, even though it’s your cottage.
5. Video games at the cottage: an idea whose time still hasn’t come.
6. Don’t tell your guests how much fun other guests were.
6. That will all be covered on the website anyway.
7. Guests aren’t afraid, on this special occasion, to overeat; don’t be afraid, on this special occasion, to overfeed.
7. Judging by the passion with which people hold to their diets, food has become the new religion. In the interest of religious tolerance, find something else to talk about.
8. Don’t apologize for the weather. Guests know it’s not your fault, and they are willing to concede that it is always better than this.
8. Avoid the temptation to entertain your guests with recitations of the damage done by acid rain, zebra mussels, and whatever kind of moth is bothering you this year.
9. Guests don’t need to know as much about the waste disposal system as you think they do.
9. Because of technological advances and the reliability of the power supply, it’s not a bad idea to put that outhouse back up, just in case.
From the Trade Paperback edition.