Photo by Tabsinthe

2011 was my year of bed and breakfasts.

I’M 25. I’M more inclined to stay in dingy hostels or on the couch of a stranger than in swanky accommodations. But such is the life of a travel writer, and many times this past year I’ve jumped from places like the indulgent Pan Pacific in downtown Vancouver with its meticulously moulded butter balls to the top bunk of a musty hostel bed in the Okanagan.

And then there were the bed and breakfasts, a whole different ball game. Sometimes my stays were the fortunate results of complimentary invitations from tourism boards or epic Groupon deals, and sometimes I’ve simply had no other choice. Sometimes I just wanted someone to turn down my bed sheets, put a mint on the pillow, and serve me some pancakes.

But not too many people take a 25-year-old seriously when they’re staying at a high-end B&B. Especially when they’re wearing sneakers and a sweater with holes in it, and carrying a backpack that looks like someone chewed on the straps. Even my mother doesn’t trust me in her household.

It’s even more suspicious when you’re staying alone, or travelling with someone of the same sex, or there are beer bottles rattling around in your luggage, or you have red hair. Fortunately, I’m the kind of person who grows on people like an extra limb: you don’t really want them there, but you learn to deal with it.

First of all, recognize there’s bit of a social hierarchy

Learn a few standard rules of politeness. Know which utensils to use at the breakfast table…the general rule I use is start from the outside and work your way in, which can be confusing when you literally have 10 spoons. I have no idea if this is accurate or not, but I just go with it. Chew with your mouth closed, always thank your hosts, and compliment their cooking skills. Smack your lips over the Saskatchewan toast, a halved croissant dipped in egg batter and fried up like French toast. Your hosts may talk to you like you’re a child. Appreciate that this is one of the last few settings left in your life where this is fine.

Never insult the owner’s town

You might not even know you’re insulting their town, so consider your words carefully. Mull over your word choice. In Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland, my friend Ange and I got lost for 40 minutes trying to find the B&B. Everything was strangely dark, and none of the roads were marked clearly.

After arriving at the massive manor, I remarked to the lady of the household that the lack of street lights in the area made it difficult to find anything. “No,” she said, in complete defiance. “There are streetlights.”

She barely acknowledged me after that.

Don’t giggle about the diets of the other patrons at breakfast

I enjoy old people. I like their stories, and I’m always compelled to eavesdrop on their conversations. So I do. At the same B&B in Grand Falls-Windsor, I was sitting at the breakfast table between some elderly married couples, helping myself to more sausage, and listening in earnest about impressions of Newfoundland. I advised them where to go and what to do. They were curious about my lifestyle, and why I didn’t have a real job, and why I was travelling around the province, and why the girl with me was wearing neon-coloured converse sneakers and swearing on occasion.

But when the B&B owner came to take our drink orders, and one of the ladies ordered “sugar water” and some other dietary oddity I couldn’t pronounce, I giggled and made a joke. Don’t ever make an ageist joke around the elderly. I thought I had been welcomed into their graying club, but 10 pairs of eyes glared at me. I excused myself from the table.

Be attentive and ask lots of questions

It’s polite, but you’ll also acquire enough stories to write a “B&B etiquette for people under 60″ story some time later. At the eccentric Dragon’s Nest in Regina, I met a character named Cathy. After some gentle prodding and interrogation, she unveiled her life story to me. She was in a full-on fight with the tenants living in her house, and every time I said I was going somewhere, she replied with, “Oh, I’ve lived there.” When I told her my blog’s name was Candice Does the World, she told me to wear a condom.

She was one of the most interesting people I’ve met on my travels, alongside the quirky Dragon’s Nest owners who decked out their home in ancient Chinese medicine paraphernalia.

Relax and go with the flow

Being on edge makes the owners on edge, and they’ll be worried you’re pocketing more than the facial cleanser in the bathroom. I recently visited the George House Heritage B&B in a town named Dildo with one of my best friends of the same sex on National Coming Out Day. After a romantic four-course meal of fish cakes, cod baked over sauerkraut, and bread pudding, we retired to our luxury room complete with Jacuzzi. We cracked jokes about our honeymoon escape. The whispers from the men drinking beer in the parlour were totally worth it.

Let some things go unmentioned

At one manor, I lay in bed reading, when suddenly my leg started itching. I scratched it, twice. The third time, I threw back the blankets to find a goddamned centipede crawling up my thigh.

Let me pause here to tell you that my fear of creepy-crawlies is more serious and more consequential than my student loan debt.

It was like a horror movie. I turned the bed upside down, rearranged the blankets, and went to sleep. I never spoke of it to the owners. Why? I loved them. They were amazing people. They were kind and good-hearted and I knew if I said anything, they would be concerned. And I knew it was one of those freak things that only happens to people like me because I’m an easy target for humiliation.

Don’t get drunk

And if you do get drunk, pull yourself together. Your hosts will appreciate it, and a few beers and a game of chess in the sitting room are fine. At the DesBarres Manor Inn in Nova Scotia, I asked for some ice to bring back to my room to keep my beers cold. The host took the small bucket from my hand, and handed me a bigger one. That’s good service. Let them know you appreciate good service.

When you find people who go out of their way to make you feel comfortable, show them your gratitude

Follow up with thank-you cards. I pulled up at the Hillside B&B in Twillingate, Newfoundland, to be greeted by the friendly owners, Wavey and Winston. I slipped out later in the evening to take a moonlit stroll alone around the bay, pausing on the dock to watch the lights flicker on the water where they cast silhouettes of dory boats. When I returned to my room, Winston came to check on me. He had seen me leave, and was concerned about a young girl wandering around in the dark alone.

Either that, or he was afraid that I was selling drugs.

Finally, offer a review online, and sign their guestbook

Punctuate with smiley faces. You will come to understand the importance of smiley faces.

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