A seemingly innocuous, considerate question when posed by a host to her houseguests over breakfast, right? Wrong! I'm realizing, during this hot summer of hosting and being hosted, that an honest response can be hazardous to one's visit, and lead to, well, future nights tossing and turning, worrying about the correct reply.
For instance, I was recently hosted by a friend in Los Angeles. The first night I slept in a bedroom in the main house, only to be kept awake by her dog, who was scratching at the door, crying and barking. Now, I'll admit I'm afraid of dogs (yes, it's embarrassing, but true), so in the morning when I got asked the "How did you sleep?" question, I hesitated long enough for my perceptive host to say, "Did Trixie keep you up?" In that moment, I was too tired to say, "No, no, I slept great!," and instead confessed that the dog had kept me up. My host wasted no time moving me to her guest house, where I spent the rest of the trip getting the best sleep I've had in years.
But most people don't have a guest house, or even the option of a fallback guest room if there's a complaint with the first. I also felt that I was breaking a basic etiquette rule about not making your host's life harder than it already is.
When I've been in the host position and asked my guests,"How did you sleep?," I'll admit it never feels good to hear about all the trouble they had wrestling with the blinds or the thermostat, or the air mattress leaking, or whatever else went wrong in their desperate attempts to get some shut-eye. But of course I'd rather know what the trouble was so I could address it for the rest of the visit.
And yet when I've been the guest, it does feel critical and ungrateful to complain about anything when you're already imposing just by being there.
So, is "Great, thanks!" the only right answer to "How did you sleep?"