It’s the long weekend. You don’t own a cottage. Neither do I. But friends have asked you to join them at their lakeside abode. Pay heed to these 10 tips and rest-assured, you’ll be invited back.
1. Offer to make one meal
You can’t expect your hosts to cook you breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day. Maybe you make a killer Caesar salad, or you’re known for your freshly baked pies. Whatever it is, bring it. One time I made an interpretive version of huevos rancheros–tortillas topped with black beans, scrambled eggs, avocado, salsa and sour cream–for a Sunday brunch that went over really well. Or you could bring up a batch of homemade salsa (dump one can of plum tomatoes, one clove of garlic, half a red onion, juice of one lime, a jalapeño, a whack of fresh cilantro and salt to taste into a food processor and whiz it up) with tortilla chips. Also, get a pot of coffee on before everybody else wakes up.
2. If you’re not making a meal, help with the dishes.
Like, without being asked. This will really get you points, especially if you’re a man because in my experience it’s women who jump up to help first. Show the ladies what you’re made of by beating them to the punch. This would be a good move if you’re a single man and there’s a single woman you’re trying to impress, too. And go the extra mile by asking your host for directions first because maybe their taps are all wonky or there are special rules or something.
3. Get a handle on the plumbing
That brings me to plumbing. I don’t know what a sump-pump is, nor do I want to. However I do know that every cottage has their own peculiar system, like complex low-flush toilets or weird-flushing ones; the kind where you have to flush holding the handle down gently, count to to three, hop on one leg, sing the chorus to Phil Collins’ Sussudio, and then release. Maybe there’s a rule about if it’s just yellow let it mellow. Ask ahead of time. Also, be prepared to use an outhouse. And finally–and this is just a personal thing–don’t bother showering. First, you’ll be using up valuable bathroom time. Second, it’s only for a couple of days, and third, you’re staring at a lake. Go jump in it (with biodegradable soap obviously.)
4. Don’t play with the kids too much
That is unless you really like kids. If you want to spend your weekend doing cannonballs and back-flips off the floaty dock–because you did it once to get a laugh and the kids went nuts for it, be my guest. But I’ve made the mistake of revealing one of my talents, like demonstrating my loon call, for example, and I spent the entire weekend with rug rats asking me to do it again and again. Similarly, don’t try and teach them things, like how to do a loon call. The call of the loon is one of nature’s most hauntingly beautiful sounds. The sound of four 10-year-old boys endlessly imitating the loon is just plain grating. (If you want to teach the kids a bird call, show them how to mimic the sound of a hummingbird’s wings, for peace and tranquility.) What I’m trying to say is, kids are very smart and they will hone in like hawks on the “fun” adult. And they will not let you rest once they’ve found you.
5. Get the kids to work for you
Now, this is tricky. You want to get them to trust you, so you might have to give them a taste of how similar you are. Maybe one fake flatulence sound–but stop there. Now they’re you’re friend: give them a quarter for every time they refreshen your drink or go up to the cottage to get your copy of the New Yorker that you forgot in the bathroom. Up the ante by bringing loonies and toonies.
6. Bring your own booze
Nobody likes a moocher. Why not really impress your hosts by bringing up the ingredients for your favourite cocktail? I have a couple, and they’re real crowd pleasers. One I call The Underdog: it’s a bit labour intensive, but delicious. Muddle up some mint and a few slices of cucumber, pour in two ounces of Pimm’s and top off with lemonade and club soda. Or whip up a batch of Aperol Spritzes: dump half a bottle of Aperol (it’s like Campari’s sassier little sister) and a bottle of prosecco in a jug. Stir, and pour into glasses filled with ice. Top with a little soda and a slice of orange. Also, it’s a good idea to make sure you leave the cottage with more booze inventory than it had when you arrived.
7. Bring a beach towel
In fact, bring other hot ticket items too, like makings for smores, a package of Schneider’s Red Hots, sun screen, bug spray, Sun-In, potato chips, fresh fruit–even an entire watermelon.
8. Ask if there will be pets at the cottage
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s happened to me a few times. Once I arrived at a cottage to find hosts and guests around the table, enjoying drinks and playing Trivial Pursuit. I join them, only to feel something warm and hairy rub up against my legs under the table. And it wasn’t Uncle Dougie passed out down there. It was a German Shepherd. After getting the rash under control–I’m allergic to pets with hair, including horses–next up was bringing the swelling down around my eyes, not to mention a quick 20 kilometre run to the nearest store to pay $125 and change for Claritin. If I had asked, I could have come prepared. Also, don’t bring bring a cat or a dog along, without first checking with your hosts.
9. Plan for rain
That means bringing books and magazines. This is also great if you don’t feel like talking to people.
10. Bring an extravagant gift for your hosts
Maybe they love wine. Pick up an especially indulgent bottle (if you don’t know wine, stick with Italian reds that start with “b”, like Barbaresco, Barolo, Barbara d’Alba, and Brunello). Choose something special that they might not normally buy for themselves. Maybe bring up a selection of fancy cheeses with accompanying accoutrements. Or what about some bird watching book or an astronomy book that can stay at the cottage for people who like bird-watching and looking at the stars.
10. Help clean up
Too often guests hit the road leaving the owners the daunting task of tidying everything up. I usually like offering to sweep because a) it’s not that hard and b) you can make it look like it’s really hard. This could also include getting all the crap you brought, like the barely opened jars of Malaysian apricot sauce or the half-eaten package of Schneider’s Red Hots (am I the only one who loves those wieners?) Otherwise fridges end up with bits of food that no one wants. You could also offer to take away a bag of garbage and recycling on your way out–those beer cans and wine bottles sure add up. And you could use up the last of your quarters by rewarding the children to round them up.
Make sure to check out our very own John Geddes’ list–for advanced cottage moochers only–here.
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.