April 1, 2015 | Rome, Italy | Partly Cloudy 16°C

The fish factor

Hostess and guests tend to stop the sweetness act after three days.
By Lucy Brignall
Published: 2013-12-29

t was Benjamin Franklin who said, "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days."

I'm sure many of you sympathized with the words of the great statesman over the holidays. For it remains an absolute truth that people can only maintain their best behavior for three days. After that, both guest (and hosts) feel the need to be more themselves.

For the elderly, children are no longer "charming" and but "noisy, spoiled brats" who live "a charmed life." The bed turns uncomfortable. The food is suddenly too rich. The room is too cold and the television impossible to hear.

The middle-aged suddenly feel the need to point out your family's shortcomings and offer a detailed plan of how to rectify them. They do this with a smug confidence that suggests that they never would have faced such a situation in the first place.

The young have the good sense to flee at the first opportunity using whatever mode of transport gets them out faster. That leaves the survivors to try to keep the peace and impose a sense of proportion.

All these factors can lead to the hostess sobbing into the washing up or suddenly deciding to visit a sick friend or even scheming to devise the perfect murder. If you live in Italy, the world's number one holiday destination, this scenario isn't restricted to Christmas. Visitors can come all year round.

In fairness, nobody can expect relatives who live in a foreign country to visit for just three days. There are plane fares to consider. That alone means two things from the very start, or should: quite a lot of effort on behalf of the host, and just as much sensitivity on the part of the guests — bearing in mind the three-day rule.

So if you're thinking of making such a trip, and you actually care about the people you're visiting, I urge you to follow these three rules:

1. Always have your own transport. This is as important to you as to your hosts. It allows you to remain independent. If you get fed up, you're free to go your own way. If your host neglects to satisfy your grocery requirements, you can sort them out yourself. It also means that you can comply with the other two rules more easily.

2. If your stay lasts more than a week, take at least one trip, definitely overnight, but preferably for two nights.

3. Help out. After three days it should be apparent that there is something you can do, even if it's just the washing up. Just because you're on holiday doesn't mean everyone is. It will be appreciated, and may alleviate the sobbing.

The most perfect guests we've ever had were English friends of mine who live in France and constantly get visitors. They understand that a little empathy can go a long way.

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Lucy Brignall

Lucy lives on a farm in Le Marche and helps run a local summer school.

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