Now we get to that special time of year where one imposes on strangers over and over, and must do so politely.
First, make a good impression. The difficult thing about being a houseguest is the rift between imposing on someone else and their event imposing on your vacation time. It might be your first day off in months, but that is no excuse for rolling off the plane looking like you’ve just come from lacrosse practice. As we’ve mentioned before, traveling in style – that is, in coat and tie or equivalent – not only gets you good service, but prevents you from wrinkling your nice clothes in your luggage.
In the Italian language it is considered polite to use the formal "Lei" (always capitalized) when talking to strangers instead of the second person "tu" form. What this does is offer your host or innkeeper the chance to say, "Okay, thank you for being polite, but let’s switch to the informal tone here."
The same is true for being a houseguest. It helps to start out formal as a sign of respect. Arriving in formal dress is a great way to let your hosts set the pace for your comfort. You will hear a lot of "Take your shoes off and make yourself comfortable." Or, "We’re just going to order pizza tonight, do you want to change into something else?"
In preparation for a trip, you might want to get yourself a nice pair of socks. It may seem silly, but if your host has new carpet or hard wood floors you won’t want to slide around in the same old black socks you keep piled up for work. Try these warm, but not itchy, wool blended socks from Patagonia.
Second, bring a functional gift for the occasion. Nothing says, "I’m doing this out of obligation" like showing up with those weird soaps or potpourri you see in airport gift shops. Bring them something just for fun. On your red eye from San Francisco, pick up a loaf of sourdough. On the morning flight from New York, grab a dozen bagels or Junior’s Cheesecake. When flying international, duty free.
Third, frequently boyfriends and fiances get dragged around to various religious services this time of year. This makes many visitors uncomfortable (all the prayers and songs they may not be used to), but one must remember that for the majority of religious people, the temple is a community meeting place. If they invite you along, it’s likely because they want you to meet old Sunday school teachers and church leaders. If you sense that an aunt or grandparent is watching your lips to see if you know all the right prayers or hymns, that person probably won’t like you anyway so there’s no use trying to impress them. Just go in a sport coat.
In general, it helps to pick up the local paper when you travel. This way you can get a hold of local issues and draw in other’s interests, rather than just gabbing on about your foreign existence in another city.
Also, nothing is so unintentionally rude as not taking care of yourself when you travel. If you "sometimes" find yourself allergic to other people’s cats or you have lactose issues, pack yourself a little zip lock of remedies.
Finally, for the hosting party, please remember to take the lead. If you bring your fiance home to meet your parents, remember to wake him for breakfast and be specific about plans and duties so that you give him the chance to look proactive and happy to be there.
Images courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.