My sister had some friends staying over one night this Christmas, and as she had the entire household tidying, cleaning and changing bed sheets in addition to moving us around to make room for them (which resulted in me getting an elbow in my face in the middle of the night from my youngest sister who had to bunk with me), it got me thinking about a visit I had with some friends a few years ago.

The way I was raised, we treat our guests, especially those that aren’t family, as just that; guests. We want the house to look presentable, so whenever we’re expecting guests, we all help to tidy up a bit and to make sure the kitchen, bathrooms and floors are clean. If they are staying over, we change the bedsheets and tidy up the room they will be staying in. Seeing as my father is a hobby-cook and a rather good one at that, we have also always been making an extra effort with the meals, be that dinner or breakfast, and we generally make sure that our guests feel at home and taken care of.

Tea Party, by Hellsign on Deviantart

Where I was staying however, there seemed to be a different routine to it that I remember shocked even me, and I’m not the tidiest person myself. Not a single room was cleaned or tidied before I came. The tables were full of papers, books and different knickknacks, and I had to hunt for a chair I could actually sit in. The bathroom was also very dirty, dirty enough to shock me because our bathroom never gets to that stage before it is cleaned, and certainly not when we are expecting guests.
The bedroom was also untidy with dirty laundry in heaps on the floor, and the bed was unmade. It bothered me a bit, knowing that I slept in the bedsheets of my friend’s boyfriend, whom I had only met that day… Thankfully it was me and not my sister, who probably would have refused sleeping in the bed, and taken the couch instead.

In addition to that, I had to pay for most of the dinner, and for both mine and my friend’s food when we had lunch at a restaurant that day where my friend’s food cost twice as much as mine. I didn’t react to it then, because my friend was making us dinner that evening, so I figured it was fair enough that I paid for lunch seeing as we were both poor students, but then we had to stop by the store and get all the ingredients for dinner and I had to pay for practically everything there as well.

How very differently people see the term hospitality. For some that means cleaning the house and involving the entire family in the process, for others it means offering a bed and a share of the food if you help pay for it. In comparison; I stayed with a greek family in Cyprus for a week when I was in High School as a part of the Comenius Lachesis “Where we live makes us who we are” project. Four schools, one in Norway, one in Greece, one in Spain and one in Cyprus exchanged students. We had a girl from Cyprus staying with us for a week, and then I stayed with them for a week. I was treaded like an honored guest by the entire family; they redecorated a room just for me, dished up traditional food, and gathered the entire family to make me feel welcomed. The children didn’t eat breakfast, but in Norway we always do, so going a week without would have messed me up, something the girl Anastacia who stayed with us had told her parents, so the mother made a large breakfast table every morning for me, and she and I had breakfast and discussed everything from the weather to the difference in our educational systems while Anastacia did her hair and makeup, and the mother never let me leave without a packed lunch and a bottle of water for the day. Not to mention the fact that they never spoke Greek when I was around, but stuck to English. Going to a cafĂ©, I wasn’t even allowed to pay for my own coffee, and barely my souvenirs (because I said they were gifts).

People have very different ways of treating their guests, some are cultural, and some people are known for their hospitality, while other ways are individual traditions. I’m grateful for my own traditions, I wouldn’t want a guest to feel uncomfortable while staying with me.

How about you guys? How do you treat your guests? Have you ever experienced any odd or unsettling traditions?

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3 Responses to Hospitality.

  1. If I had a guest overnight or even over for dinner my family and I clean everything. Especially the bathroom and kitchen I believe they represent you and how clean you are. I also pay for any meals I cook or purchased. I would be really embarrassed if someone saw my house in a mess.

  2. I have only been a guest in two countries, India and the UK, so I cannot speak for the rest of the world.
    In India, an old saying goes ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ which translates into ‘Guest is God’. While that’s kind of extreme, Indian families tend to be like you described yours. Clean, tidy, comfort-inducing, and the guest would NEVER pay for anything.
    In the UK, I have been fortunate. All the families I stayed with were like your hosts in Cyprus. So culturally sensitive, accomodating, traditional food, and taking me around towns – lovely! Like I said, I have been fortunate.

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