The Current

How to be a good house guest? Don't be like Julian Assange, says this master butler

The Ecuadorian embassy has set some house rules for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to clean up after his cat and do his own laundry. It's perfectly in line to set these kinds of rules, says veteran majordomo Charles MacPherson.

Ecuadorian embassy in London sets house rules for their 'guest' the Wikileaks founder

If you want to be a respectful house guest, don't treat the home like a hotel, says Charles MacPherson, who has spent 10 years overseeing the staff of a large household. (Appetite by Random House)
Listen21:18

If there's one thing you should know about being a good house guest, it's this: "You're not there to have your host serve you."

That golden rule is what Charles MacPherson stands by. He's spent nearly a decade as the majordomo, overseeing the staff of a large household and now has his own company training domestic staff.  

"At some point we need to realize that we need to be respectful of the space where we are. And so, 'your house, your rules' is ultimately really what it is," MacPherson told The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

One house that has had to deal with an unusual guest is the Ecuadorian embassy in London. They've recently set new rules for a house guest of six years: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

According to The Guardian, conditions for Assange's continued stay at the embassy were contingent on him staying out of activity that would be "considered as political or interfering with the internal affairs of other states."

The memo also included basic housekeeping rules, like keeping his bathroom clean, doing his own laundry and taking proper care of his cat by keeping up with his hygiene.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange lives with his cat at Ecuador's embassy in London, England. According to New Yorker’s Raffi Khatchadourian, the cat’s name is Michi, which is Ecuadorian Spanish for 'cat.' (Neil Hall/Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

These are all perfectly acceptable expectations of a house guest, according to MacPherson, who added it's clear Assange has outstayed his welcome.

"You're not in a hotel. If that's the type of service you want, you need to go to a hotel," he said.

Being in a home means respecting not only the space, but what you use in that space— so make your bed, clean your dishes and clean the bathroom after yourself, he explained.

How to tell a house guest it's time to go

There's no easy way to get around telling your guest they are no longer welcome. These people are friends or family members that you have a relationship with, said MacPherson, author ofThe Butler Speaks and The Pocket Butler.

He suggested being proactive and setting parameters before a guest arrives to establish the length of their stay.

He offered these lines, as a way to ease the subject into a conversation: "you're coming over for the weekend that's really great," or, "I'm looking forward to having you for the next couple of days."

For guests who wake up early, do this

Sometimes, house guests keep different hours than host. If the guest or guests wake up earlier than everyone else, they may force the host to make an early rise.

It's a common complaint, according to MacPherson.

If you're an early-riser of a guest, he suggests telling this to your host:

As a guest, if you wake up early be sure to approach the host before going to bed and ask where everything is to make sure you avoid waking anyone else up in the house, suggests Charles MacPherson. (Free-Photos/Pixabay)

"I'm a creature of habit. I wake up at 5:30 in the morning, it's my thing. So can we set up a coffee station in the kitchen, so I can just come down very quietly and just make myself a cup of coffee?"

By doing this, the guest can avoid a banging of cupboards, trying to find the equipment for a cup of morning java.

He cautioned, however, that even a highly esteemed guest shouldn't assume they have full disposal of the house, said MacPherson.

If a morning routine hasn't been addressed, he suggests staying in the room until everyone else is up as common courtesy.

How to say 'you're not welcome to stay over' — nicely

Everyone has that one friend (or more) who may be great to hang out with at a bar or on a patio, but make the worst overnight house guests.

So how do you gently talk down your best buddy college from crashing on your couch for the next week — before they show up at your door?

MacPherson suggests saying something like this:

"I've got some things going on in my life right now. This really isn't the right time. I really need to ask if you can make other arrangements and I'll give you a raincheck for the future."

If you're not upfront and end up hosting a guest you never wanted to begin with, he said, it could make things difficult both for you and your house guest (or house crasher).

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page — including journalist  Dan Collyns who has been covering Julian Assange's relationship with Ecuador.


Produced by Howard Goldenthal and Caro Rolando.

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