Friday, May 28, 2010

lessons in hospitality

Enroute to Spain, I made a stop to see family. I was disappointed when I arrived at 8:30 p.m., after six hours of traveling, and there was nothing to eat. Only after much scrounging was I able to come up with a hot dog and some Jello, not the “real” food I craved.

I’ve had similar experiences visiting other family members, where I need to go grocery shopping or get take out in order to not go hungry.

Then I arrive in Spain, where my husband and I are given a loft, half of the square footage of our friends’ apartment. It’s open and filled with light. I hear birds chirping. We have a private bathroom, a place to relax, a flat screen TV. Most notably, my friend filled our personal refrigerator with drinks and put some snacks on top of it. In the bathroom, she laid out all kinds of toiletries we could need and said to help ourselves.

I did, in fact, forget my shampoo. It’s great to be able to grab a snack when hungry and not have to ask, or to find a way to go out and buy something. I’m reminded of similar hospitality I’ve been offered in many countries – the kind where the hosts think of what the guests might want or need, and do their best to accommodate.

In the U.S., on the other hand, it seems common to give guests a space, and tell them to make themselves at home. But they are often on their own in terms of feeding themselves and they may even take out the hosts in thanks for the lodging. I understand that people are tired and busy and may not want to put themselves out for guests. But that extra step makes being a guest so much more enjoyable. It makes me want to repay the favor – which makes the experience better for everyone.

We don’t have great accommodations for guests – a fold out sofa in the living room. I do try to have food on hand, I try to make at least one decent meal anytime someone is visiting and I tell people to help themselves to whatever is in the kitchen. But I recognize it’s not all that comfortable to rifle through someone else’s kitchen. I also admit that with the pressures of parenthood and work, I’m often fine with just suggesting we go out to eat.

This reminds me that I should make a bit more effort. I should have toiletries easily available and ready to use. I should have some snacks available in an easy to access place. And I should make an effort to think about what my guests would like to eat or do, and try to make that happen.

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