How to Host Unexpected Guests

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How to Host Unexpected Guests

This essay, by Sofia Fontenot, 18, from Houston, is one of the Top 11 winners of The Learning Network’s new “How To” Informational Writing Contest for Teenagers.

We are publishing the work of all the winners over the next several days, and you can find them here as they post.


“It’s a little delight, a little bonbon of a thing,” says Miah Arnold, the 51-year-old co-founder of Grackle & Grackle, a business hosting creative writing classes out of Arnold’s backhouse in Houston. Visitors drop in often at the dual business/residence; sometimes guests walk directly into Arnold’s living room by mistake. From childhood, Arnold’s home has always been a public space. She grew up behind a bar in small-town Myton, Utah, where her father owned a saloon, and she learned how to listen to — and ask for — the stories of unexpected guests.

First, don’t let your house be too clean. Don’t let it be filthy, either. “Having that in-between state of a house puts people at ease,” Arnold says. “Your house is in a certain state of the world. And that helps you decide the stories that you’re going to tell.” You want your guest to have a place to sit, but you also want enough tchotchkes and knickknacks strewn on side tables and hung on the walls that there’s always something to talk about. Offer your guest tea, snacks, leftovers, water at the minimum. “Go in and find whatever crackers you have,” advises Arnold. “Then ask them what stories they have.”

Be open to letting guests into your home at a moment’s notice. You may not always have the dishes cleaned or your schedule cleared, but saying “Yes, and,” to these social situations opens the door to once-in-a-lifetime relationships and experiences. “You have to let yourself be thrown off course,” says Arnold. “The guests can feel you make that decision and that makes them happier.”

In today’s world, when productivity and “the grind” are so highly prioritized, it can be difficult to dedicate a half-hour or hour of your schedule to building a new relationship, but it brings casual connection and a change in routine that we’ve been missing since the pandemic started. “When someone new comes, it turns everything off balance in a way that it needs to be,” Arnold says.

To post-guests and potential guests, remind them that they are always welcome. “You have to let people know that you enjoy it when they stop by,” says Arnold. “Just reiterating it. Just to remind each other that you live in a world together.”