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Wangzhen Ma's picture

Being a Guest in American Families

I want to talk about how to be a proper/good guest in American families as an international student.

I am from China, and many of you are from different countries, we have different cultures and backgrounds, and we all know that American culture can be different from others.  There is one thing in common - when we visit other people, we all try to be polite, decent guests. The people who invited us are friendly and hospitable; we show our gratitude to them with our behavior.

I have some American family visiting experience, and I want to share it with you guys. In December 2015, I got invited to my first thanksgiving dinner by my friend Megan. We went to her grandma’s house and had dinner with her family. Her family is very friendly, and asked me many questions about China too. The traditional thanks-giving dinner was so delicious. After that, we went black Friday shopping.


It was my first time visiting an American family, and I cannot remember if I brought anything for her grandma. And yes, if I didn’t, that would be considered impolite, always bring something to the family you visit.


The same year, my roommate invited me, and we spent a whole month in Texas with her family. It was so nice to spend Christmas in Texas; the weather was so nice/warm compared to Minnesota. One month is challenging - you want to enjoy the time, but you also want to be a good guest. Every family will ask you to feel free and make yourself at home, but you know you cannot take their world “literally”. They are great hosts, so you should be a “great” guest. No matter how long you stay with them, you should always be polite, appropriate and respect the family’s private space. 


                                                  Bethany and I

                                                           my friend who also got invited

Another girl who also got invited and I prepared some gifts before we went to visit them. However, we did not give them the gifts when we just arrived, we wrapped them as Christmas gifts and gave the gifts to them on Christmas day. I left a thank you note when we left. Actually, it would have been better to give them the gifts at the beginning (we could have bought other things for Christmas presents). I took a social etiquette class and the instructor said, "if you have time, you should also make the bed, clean the bed sheets and fold them before you leave." I think that would be nicer if I did that.


In 2016 summer, because of the school transferring, I spent 4 months with my friend Susanna and her family. She has 3 siblings, and it was my first time living with another family for so long. They were super nice, and saw me as a family member. I am really thankful for that. The home stay was a long period from other experience, so I won’t talk too much here.

We went to the beaches, dancing and had lot of fun that summer.

                                                              Susanna and I


In November, Christina invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her family. I brought her mother flowers, and we had a wonderful thanksgiving diner. Her mother even prepared a special dish just for me for where I come from. It was so thoughtful, and later that night we went black Friday shopping. 

                                   Play with Christina's dog


Last Christmas, my sweet friend Megan invited me again to spend Christmas wither her family. This time, I brought her grandma flowers. We had dinner together and opened the gift boxes under the Christmas tree. They were sweet and also prepared a gift for me. It was really nice to see her family again.


                                       Megan and I


The last experience I want to share is when I went to Chicago and visited my friend Olivia after Christmas. I brought her mom some teas as gift. Olivia’s mom prepared a lot for me for the short stay. She prepared a nice room for me and planned my whole trip and became our driver when Olivia and I explored the city. I have to say, they are great at hosting, and I love spending time with them. I sent them a thank you letter after I came back to Minnesota. 

                                                                               Olivia and I

                             Olivia's handsome cat

I just went through all the home stays that I have had with American families. And here are some things that I suggest you do when you visit an American family:

1. Always bring a gift when you visit them. It can be some flowers, a bottle of wine, homemade cookies… But you have to make sure your hosts are not allergic to any of these. It is also an excellent idea if you can give them something you brought from your own countries.

2. Know the house rules if you stay for a long term. It is also important to know the rules if you just stay for one night.

3. Give the host personal space. You are a guest, you are not a family member, do not try to get into their personal space, they have their things going on, respect that. If they don't talk about certain things with you, do not ask.

4. Help clean the house and prepare the meals. If you stay for a long time, make sure your personal space is clean and tidy. Washing the dishes after the meal or helping them clean the floor will be nice.

5. If you can and have time, clean the bed before you left. Or you can ask them first; some hosts do not want you to do that. It will save their time.

6. Always send a thank-you note when you return home. Let the hosts know how grateful you are, they really spend time, money and energy for your stay. Tell them how appreciative you are.

I really appreciate all the great hosts; I had great times with them and shared wonderful experiences with them. Hope everyone can enjoy their stays with American families, and be a great houseguest.