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Christmas etiquette: What not to do in someone else's house this festive season

There are some things you should never do while visiting someone else's house at Christmas, according to an etiquette expert. (Getty Images)
There are some things you should never do while visiting someone else's house at Christmas, according to an etiquette expert. (Getty Images)

With the previous two festive periods dominated by pandemic regulations, this Christmas many of us are looking forward to being able to get together at the home of friends and family.

But, while group gatherings are back on the cards, it seems many of us may need to brush up on the etiquette on how to behave in someone else's home.

"If you’re planning to travel to someone’s home during the Christmas holidays, the key to being a good guest is to carry your manners with you," explains etiquette expert Laura Akano, founder of Polished Manners.

"Being a good guest in someone’s home can be a delicate situation. One false move and you can quickly be labelled a nuisance. But with thoughtful communication and behaviour, and a sprinkle of good manners you can leave a good impression as a house guest this festive season."

From changing a baby anywhere but the bathroom to taking a nap in someone else's bed, Akano has revealed some of the most common Christmas faux pas many of us are making in other people's spaces and how to avoid them.

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Falling asleep in someone else's bed

Presents to buy, Prosecco to drink, the festive period is pretty darned tiring, but that doesn't mean you can just take yourself off for a nap whenever you feel like it, does it Charlotte*?

"I’d recently made a new friend through my NCT group and we agreed to help each other out after our babies were born," the 40-year-old explains of the incident in question.

"I went to her house to babysit one evening during the festive period while she went out with her husband and was amazed to see how grand it was. Being a sleep-deprived new mum, as the evening went on I could barely keep my eyes open. I decided to have a quick peek upstairs and came across her incredible master bedroom, which was the size of my entire flat. I was so exhausted, I decided to have a quick lie-down on her enormous bed."

Next thing Charlotte remembers is being woken up by a handsome face.

"It was her husband!" she adds. "He looked a little surprised to find me snuggled up in their marital bed. To my horror, I suddenly realised it was past midnight and I’d been asleep there for hours. I’d got so cosy, I’d even climbed right under the duvet. Ten years on, we’re close friends and they still tease me about it."

While Charlotte's unexpected disco nap didn't ultimately harm her friendship, Akano says as a Christmas guest in someone's home, you should try to avoid nodding off on the host's bed without their permission and indeed even going into the bedroom area as this is one of the most personal spaces in the home.

"It will be considered bad manners," Akano warns. "You should not feel it is acceptable to go into someone else's bedroom to take a nap, this is a private space, unless of course permission was given and you are feeling unwell."

Sticking to communal areas will ensure that you don't risk overstepping the mark and make your host feel uncomfortable.

Taking a nap in someone else's bed is also frowned upon. (Getty Images)
Taking a nap in someone else's bed is also frowned upon. (Getty Images)

Not respecting normal routines

While you may want to stay up late binge watching Emily in Paris or lie in past noon, this won't be considered good manners if your hosts are more team 'early to bed and up with the larks'.

Instead it is important to respect the family's usual schedule.

"As a guest, don't be the last to leave the sitting room and the first to wake up," Akano advises. "If you are an early riser, stay in your room until others are awake.

"It is important to give your host and their family some private space by not being around them all the time, perhaps they tidy up first thing in the morning or evening, that may not be possible if you are up earlier or stay up later than them."

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Changing a baby wherever you fancy

Absent-mindedly getting out your changing mat in front of the TV might be the done thing in your home, but you shouldn't assume the same goes in your hosts' space.

That's something Mary*, 39, learnt the hard way while staying with friends one Christmas.

"I've never really thought twice about changing my two children's nappies wherever I am," she explains. "So when my baby needed changing while we were visiting friends one Christmas I just whipped the stuff out of my changing bag to do it in the living room.

"Unfortunately, after taking off my son's nappy he decided he wasn't quite finished and squirted runny poop right across the cream living room carpet.

"Not only did the stain not quite come out, but the smell wasn't quite conducive to the festive cocktails and nibbles we were about to enjoy."

According to Akana the bathroom is the ideal place to change a baby, but if that isn't possible guests should ask permission from the host about where the deed should be done.

"The coffee or dining table is not a nappy changing mat, use your room or ask your host," she advises.

"The nappy should then be disposed of in the external bin."

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Taking over when tidying

Of course it isn't good guest etiquette to sit on the sofa with your feet up while your hosts clear up around you, but neither is taking a 'my way or the high way' approach to the cleaning.

"Offer to help with chores rather than assume the host requires your help and you take over," Akana advises. "It will be bad form to start clearing up dishes and washing up or sweeping and dusting around the house without your host's permission as they may have a system.

"Dusting or sweeping might imply that you think their home is not clean," she continues. "By all means, clean up after yourself but anything else seek permission first."

Don't take over the tidying up. (Getty Images)
Don't take over the tidying up. (Getty Images)

Avoid the temptation to open up the fridge

The call of Christmas food is oh so real, but while you're in someone else's space it isn't considered polite to help yourself to the festive goodies in their fridge or cupboards.

Not only is it extremely rude, it might make your hosts feel uncomfortable if you're found rifling around the kitchen cabinets.

That's something Lisa* discovered when she caught her uncle digging around her fridge one yule.

"My uncle always comes for Christmas dinner, but despite providing ample food and drink he always seems to want more," she explains.

"Last year, I came into the kitchen to find him helping himself to the trifle I'd been saving for Boxing Day and another year he kept opening bottles of wine from the wine rack.

"As well as it being really annoying, there's something rather disconcerting about someone rummaging around in your cupboards, potentially judging you on how clean and tidy everything is."

So unless you have the green light to do so, avoid heading into the kitchen cabinets or fridge without asking first.

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Not sharing your dietary requirements in advance

If you have been invited for food, any dietary restrictions, such as being meat or gluten-free, should be shared with plenty of notice, not when you sit down at the table, Akana notes.

"If you have dietary requirements, please inform your host in advance," she advises. "Arriving and then informing your host will be inconsiderate."

Helping yourself to food or drink from the fridge is considered bad form. (Getty Images)
Helping yourself to food or drink from the fridge is considered bad form. (Getty Images)

Borrowing your hosts' clothes

Sure it's hard to remember everything you need to bring for a stay at this time of the year, but according to Akana asking for and borrowing things to use or wear will not be appreciated so it's worth trying to pack adequately.

"Your host has been kind enough to invite you to stay, they shouldn't be expected to dress you as well," she says. "Ask in advance what the itinerary will be and if you are not sure of the dress code ask so that you can be adequately prepared, communication is key."

Akana has put together some other dos and don'ts while visiting someone else's house this Christmas.

  • Respect their home, avoid snooping around or using things without permission. Turning on the television without asking first is not acceptable.

  • Don't ask for the WiFi code as soon as you arrive, at the very least, greet and settle in first.

  • Don't take a bath when everyone else takes a shower, be sensitive to how things are done.

  • Take full responsibility for your children and babies at all times and ensure that you take all essential things they might need.

  • The use of furniture can be a bone of contention. Sitting with your legs on a sofa, sleeping on it or children climbing and jumping on it will be frowned upon.

  • Don't over do it on the alcohol, no one enjoys having a drunk guest.

  • Finally, don't overstay your welcome, stay for the agreed duration and not longer.

*Name has been changed.