This year marks the 29th summer that my husband and I will be driving up to Lake Muskoka to spend most weekends with my BFF Michale and her husband Lutz. Weekends with an s not a weekend, as in a one off.
Everyone can get invited to a cottage once, the trick is to get invited back.
I first wrote about the Art of the Re-Invite about 20+ years ago after I’d heard so many nightmare stories about cottage guests. And to be fair, I truly think that unless you are a cottager you don’t know the rules. Knowledge is power so here are my rules to guarantee you an invitation back.
1. Eating is one of the major activities at any cottage. Meals, snacks, pre-meal snacks, after-meal snacks, it’s an orgy of food. Ask what the host would like you to bring. If they say that famous Canadian line “Nothing” they’re lying. Every host wants you to bring something, they just don’t want to sound like they want you to bring something, but believe me, they want you to bring something. Ask first. Fridge space is usually at a premium in cottage country. If you brought a ton of perishables they host didn’t need; they are going to perish. Instead offer to bring up a dinner complete with beverages or a breakfast (see the recipe for my homemade pancake mix) or cover the weekends snacks. Note: If you have food allergies let your host know and then offer to bring up foods you can eat. It will take the pressure off the hosts. I usually offer a dinner and snacks.
2. Bring a thank you gift. This doesn’t mean a cute little knick-knack that looks like a beaver relieving himself in the bushes. Best bets – chocolates, a gift card to Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire, The Beer Store The LCBO or maybe flowers. Better yet, give them a copy of Peace, Love and Fibre my new bestselling cookbook. Available online at Amazon.ca or Indigo.ca or at most Chapters/Indigo stores.
3. Never show up early. I usually call just as we are leaving so our friends will have a vague idea as to when we will get there. Works very well if there are martinis involved.
4. When being at the cottage includes kids most of the rules are slightly different. Kids want to be busy, so plan activities that involve them, this doesn’t mean packing up the X-Box and plugging them in all weekend. Bring board games, plan a scavenger hunt, or organize a cottage Regatta. One year we had a paddle boat race complete with prizes.
5. If you are invited don’t assume that includes anyone else. Bringing along another guest is a guarantee you and your buddy won’t be back. Which brings us to your pet, bringing your beloved Golden Lab, Charlie, who smells like a dead squirrel, to a cottage that is not dog friendly will secure that you won’t be back.
6. Don’t go rummaging willy-nilly through the fridge making yourself something to eat. You may have just eaten what your host had planned for tomorrow night’s supper. Asking the host what’s for dinner right after lunch is also considered bad form as well.
7. Boats and most water toys of any kind are expensive to run. Going out on the Sea-Doo may be a blast for you, but remember they don’t run on air. Boat gas is very expensive. Offer to pay for a full tank of gas. If they don’t let you, at least you offered and they won’t think you are an unthinking nincompoop. They may later, but right then you are on solid ground.
8. Unless everyone else is on a mission to alcoholic nirvana, don’t be the only one who gets bombed. Worst case scenario – getting bombed, becoming loud and obnoxious and then discussing your sex life.
9. Respect that although you are just there for a couple of days the people who own the place are there most of the season, so don’t be leaving wet bathing suits or towels on the floor. Better yet, be extremely tidy. No one ever gets demerit points for being tidy.
10. When you receive an invite it always includes an arrival and departure time. “We’d love to have you for the weekend. How about coming up Friday night and then we’d like to see the last of your sorry ass on Sunday afternoon.” Leave on the predetermined designated day. Asking to stay longer or just not getting off the lawn chair will guarantee that this will be your last weekend there.
11. Don’t help yourself to the host’s stash of brewskees, or go nuts in the liquor cabinet either. BYOB doesn’t cut it in cottage country. The acronym for cottaging is BEFE. Translation: Bring Enough For Everyone. We always bring a variety of drinks including non-alcoholic beverages.
12. The great outdoors may call to you to bathe in the glow of the afternoon sun buck naked, but think this through. First of all, getting sunburned in those special places is challenging right from the get go and unless you look like Brad Pitt or one of the Sport’s Illustrated Super Models no one really wants to see all your junk hanging out all over the place. Bring a swimsuit and a cover up.
13. Bring your own towels and bedding. Cottagers don’t offer laundry service. They usually have a septic system and don’t want to be doing your laundry, or worse having to run into town to use the launderette for your laundry. Your hosts are not your parents or the owners of a B&B. They don’t have to take care of you. Don’t take advantage of them.
14. Don’t freak out if there is no running water, which means no flushing toilets. Think pioneer and don’t drink any fluids after 7:00 pm unless you like stumbling out there in the dark searching for the wee little house in the woods.
My favourite story is the about a single guy who showed up at a friend’s cottage with six ears of corn, and an extra guest on the Friday night, drank all of the host’s booze, and then as he was leaving on Sunday asked if there was any corn left that he could take home. It was his last weekend there. Bottom line, bring stuff, leave the extras, and have fun.