"We'll lose the silver!" my wife protested. "And besides, I don't want to share my bathroom with strangers," she added in counterpoint to my entreaties to open our home to bed and breakfast guests.
This was not the first time that the entrepreneurial spirit shown by a husband or wife has met with, let's say, less than total acceptance by the other. Some might call it an equilibrium factor in a marriage. Others . . . well, let's not get into what others might say.
Sincere as her reservations were, she didn't persist in expressing them. Not that my arguments swayed her. She suspected, and rightfully so, that the virtues of due process would yield, yet again, to the dictates of expediency.
Be that as it may, I met the challenge of hosting the first few bed and breakfast couples with the passion of Basil Fawlty, the zany innkeeper in the British TV comedy, "Fawlty Towers," by avoiding conflict at any price.
"You want orange juice instead of coffee? Well, I'll run down to the store seven miles away and get some. No problem. A medium rare egg? Coming right up."
I also exhibited an almost studied lack of timing, such as when responding to a guest's series of questions by popping my head out of a different doorway for each answer. One guest wondered (in amusement, I hope), "Which one are you -- Groucho, Harpo or Chico?"
While I have learned to work with referral services, mastered myriad details associated with a bed and breakfast business (Achh! I forgot the water cups and night light) and worried about trivial matters such as whether the cat would drag a hapless little animal into the kitchen for show-and-tell during breakfast, scores of bed and breakfast couples have stayed in our home. During this four-year period of mostly pleasant experiences with those guests (and with my wife, too, I'd better add), the silverware is still intact, the Picasso print untouched and my spouse the last to leave the breakfast table, so much does she enjoy talking with our guests.
These "instant" distant relatives have come from all corners of the world and all walks of life. There were the young newlyweds from Liverpool, England, who were always late for breakfast, a gracious Philadelphia matron who discovered that another of our guests had also recently traveled to the Galapagos Islands, and American missionaries back briefly from a remote station in Borneo. Then there was a dean of a school of public health, who also played guitar on the "Prairie Home Companion" radio show, key staffers crashing after an unsuccessful presidential primary campaign, and a recently retired couple who, hap- These friends have brought our kitchen alive with laughter and animated talk, amid the aroma of bacon, eggs and toast. py as clams, sold their home and most of their belongings to live on a boat.
These friends have brought our kitchen alive with laughter and animated talk, amid the aroma of bacon, eggs and toast. They have shared many experiences, often colorful and sometimes exotic.
"Let me show you how Romanian peasants prepare onions to serve with eggs," volunteered a gentleman with the World Bank, much to the puzzlement of his wife across the table. The demonstration, accompanied by gripping tales of the rigors of rural life in Romania, culminated in a karate-like chop to the helpless onion on the cutting board. As the flattened vegetable, sans oils, was brought back to the table, the startled wife blurted out, "I don't believe this! I've never seen him do this before."
Much as I'd like to think otherwise, bed and breakfast isn't for everyone. There was the husband from Oakland who arrived with his wife at our home an hour after their plane landed at National Airport. After depositing the suitcases in the bedroom he hastened to the veranda, where he sat motionless with his face in his hands.
"Airsick?" I asked.
"No," he moaned, "my wife didn't tell me we were staying at someone's home until a half-hour ago."
Three days of my Basil Fawlty charm later, and the man had warmed to bed and breakfast.
A more trying episode involved a guest here to see a college football game who lugged his bottle of Canadian Club with him around the house. By midnight he decided to telephone a friend long-distance. (He did use his credit card.) The guest shouted slurred phrases into the phone for more than an hour before my wife and I could stand the noise no longer. Confronting a person who has had too much to drink is usually difficult. This time was no exception.
Any mistakes? Admittedly, I've made a few. So, here is a list of "don'ts" to help those excited about the possibility of opening their homes to bed and breakfast guests. (Such excitement is often limited, at least initially, to just one person per family.)
Don't draw attention to a dead or dying frog or any other incapacitated animal lying on the ktichen hearth by trying to dispose of it while guests are eating breakfast. If pressed, pretend the poor creature is a door stop. If pressed further, claim it is a badly made door stop.
Don't drag guests who have just arrived after a 400-mile car trip around your tastefully appointed home, regaling them with witty anecdotes about the house's many-layered though obscure history. When lips are parched and bones weary, the origin of a carved ivory piece in the parlor showcase is not something to dwell on.
Don't intercede when a couple is deciding on a restaurant. It's my experience that the husband usually selects the spot. The wife can even things out later when she nonchalantly points out the wrong turn he made five miles back.
And finally, don't get so wrapped up in the rest of your life that you don't have time to sit down and chat with your guests. How else could you ever learn about the challenges of having a mother-in-law move in with you unexpectedly while living in Ouagadougou, Upper Volta?