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Cottage Guest Rules

There are three kinds of people: cottage people, people who get Invited to Visit cottage people, and people who are utterly unaware of cottage culture. The third group must be considered blameless for their condition; they probably were never exposed to the cottage concept, and may well go through their entire lives unaware of the bucolic bliss of outdoor plumbing.

That third group is not reading this; it is no doubt entertaining itself with any number of purely urban diversions. For groups one and two, however, the following is a carefully-honed list of rules for cottage guests, acquired through years of personal experience as a guest who has sometimes even been Invited Back. Take notes; there will be a pop quiz later on the Ten Most Important Cottage Guest Rules:

1. If bringing food, ascertain in advance what your hosts genuinely require: vegetables? poultry? beverages? Twenty-kilo sacks of flour or sugar are bulky, difficult to store, and may be prone to all sorts of midnight raids by furry creatures or hungry bugs, not to mention the fact that no one can use fifty pounds of sugar in three months, and the stuff will turn to disgusting, gloppy syrup if it gets wet over the winter. Bring wonderments if you must bring surprise foods: jars of olives, special pates, a little bottle of vinaigrette. Stow your stash of Crunch&Munch for midnight snacking in your overnight bag.

2. Just because this is a cottage, it does not mean civilization has been abandoned. Expect to behave at the dinner table as you would in the city and, when dining al fresco (that means outside), do not run about the verdant clearing looking for raccoons to eat your walnut/watercress salad for you. The raccoons, rabbits, and skunks can find their own salads, your hosts very likely do not wish to encourage raccoons to think of their cottage as a fast food takeout outlet, and it's rude not to eat what's placed before you.

3. Regarding sex: cottage walls are thin. If invited out with your romantic partner, and if you absolutely cannot abstain for a day or two, practice silent sex. If attempting woodsy sex, take a wildflower book along. Consult it to ensure you are not flailing in a patch of poison ivy. Check all possible sightlines for other cottages buried in the wilderness before you remove any clothing. Untanned bare bottoms are visible through binoculars for a considerable distance-- especially if they are bobbing rhythmically.

4. Help out in the kitchen, but be sensitive to your hostess/host. Assist in the cooking, do not direct it (as in "you know, you should really cut celery and carrots on the bias to retain more nutrients") unless your hosts ask you to prepare one of your own specialties. If washing dishes, do not announce that cold, hard water can't get the grease off when you know the water tank has run out of hot water. Do not inquire if these are mouse droppings in the corner of the dish cupboard. They are. Now hush up about it.

5. Should the cottage be equipped with indoor plumbing of flush or composting type, inquire for any specifics you should know: flush, not flush, paper disposal, and the like. Stopping up the plumbing with dire consequences is worse than the embarrassment of asking. If the privy is outdoors, check for spiders and paper before sitting. Depending on how long the privy has been there and thus how fresh the ambient air is, you may or may not wish to take a book along to read with the door open. If small children or bears are about, be alert. Both can be disconcerting.

6. When fishing, cast your line in a direction that will not snag your host's ear. Or any part of his/her anatomy, for that matter. Or that of any other fishing companions. If you have any doubts about your ability to do this, just bring a book and read while the others fish. You will still be allowed to dine on the catch with everyone else-- especially if you are considerate enough to bait the others' hooks for them (See Rule 7).

7. Learn to bait fish hooks with worms and without gagging. Don't squeal and rock the boat when someone catches a fish. Don't rock the boat for any reason, for that matter. Someone's clamato juice could spill.

8. Adhere to all safety regulations regarding water sports: boating, sailing, water-skiing, swimming. Drowned guests can ruin a host family's weekend. If you don't know the safety rules, your local St. John Ambulance or Red Cross Water Safety folks will be happy to point you towards them. Above all, don't mix quantities of alcohol with boating of any kind. (Yes, this was a serious rule. If you take any of these rules to heart, let it be this one.)

9. Following dinners or on rainy days, your hosts may force game rituals or cottage projects upon you. Participate with enthusiasm; you might learn something interesting about carpentry or indoor plumbing, jigsaw puzzles can be engrossing, given the right frame of mind, and by ten at night and after a couple of glasses of wine, you will actually enjoy Pass the Pig. If you really, really enjoy it, your chances of being Invited Back may be considerably improved, since you will become an integral part of the evening's entertainment (as in" Boy, you should have seen Freda rolling those pigs and blowing on them! She got right into it!").

10. Never, never, never announce this was the night for the final episode ever of the X-Files, and isn't it a shame the cottage TV only gets CBC-- or worse, the cottage does not have a TV. That, dear guest, is one of the many joys of the cottage, and if you can't appreciate the fact-- well, frankly, you just don't deserve be to Invited Back.

By Judy Waytiuk
Originally published Summer 1997, in Cottager

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