Having traveled and lived abroad, I have encountered a wide variety of welcomes, some of which still challenge me in creating a more generous and fuller expression of hospitality in my own home.
In North Africa and the Middle East, it was common to be invited spontaneously into the home of complete strangers. The openness to host a foreigner and eagerness to share however much or little they possessed deeply impacted me. Rather than extending invitations only to the closest of friends and relatives, I witnessed a desire to engage and connect to those barely known. This displayed to me hospitality for the sake of creating connection, not only maintaining.
Prevalent in North Africa, when entering a home the tradition is to honorably greet every individual with a handshake or appropriate kiss, starting with the eldest. Though not an expectation in my culture, it made me realize that I often treat those who visit me all too casually—whether family, old friend, new acquaintance, or complete stranger. When receiving guests, I desire to be more present than consumed with perfecting my space—for I know that impressions are more often made on me by the manner in which I was received in someone’s home rather than the details of the house itself.
Being where someone’s life is done behind the scenes is rather intimate. As a guest, it may take time to get over the awkwardness or feeling of imposition. I know after coming into an unfamiliar place, I always appreciated the prompt offer of a warm beverage and a bite of edible comfort, even though in certain Arab cultures I was supposed to refuse three times before accepting. Such offerings seemed to minimize initial discomfort and occupy fidgety hands until conversation had the chance to ensue. In Morocco particularly, I stayed mesmerized by the manner in which tea is served—the higher it is poured reflecting the amount of honor being given to a person.
When receiving guests, I desire to be more present than consumed with perfecting my space…
Inviting people to “be at home” can also be encouraged by how a house is set up. In North Africa and Central Asia, I noticed there were no individual chairs protecting personal space in living rooms—instead, an array of beautiful carpets, large pillows, and long settees wrapped around the walls. All were arranged in such a way to bring individuals in close proximity and encourage conversation. I brought that observation back to my own living room, removing formal or imposing furniture, turning chairs to face each other, opening up floor space and incorporating floor pillows. To my amazement, guests began to sit and even lay on our floor, thus more apt to relax while playing with our children and dog.
Some of my richest cultural experiences involved timeless dinners filled with lengthy conversation—lavish multi-course meals made from scratch, eaten by hand, and maybe even featuring a freshly slaughtered animal. Unexpectedly, such sacrificial hosting seemed to take place in some of the most modest of homes, setting a beautiful example of generosity and gratitude no matter the means and exposing the joy to be had in taking the time to share a meal down to its last delicious morsel.
Inviting people to “be at home” can also be encouraged by how a house is set up.
While living in Europe, not only did I learn that red wine goes surprisingly well with salty potato chips, but how polite it is to walk your departing guests to the street or property gate to wave them off before turning one’s back. This courteous and also deeply meaningful gesture made a home visit that much more memorable for me, and has since also been adopted by our family.
Grateful for these rich, multi-cultural examples of hospitality, I am now collectively employing them to mentor our children in the art. They are learning how to open the door, greet guests, and offer refreshments—the hardest lesson being to serve others before themselves. However, hosting isn’t just about having the extravagant spread, clean house, or even well trained children. Thank goodness, because I rarely master any of these.
Hospitality is about the act of warmly receiving people into our own dwelling place, authentically engaging with them, and returning them to the world outside refreshed, nourished, and connected. Now, I consider it a true compliment if a previous guest returns to our home bringing someone else along whom they wish to introduce. For, it’s through welcoming others into our life and humbly sharing what we have that I see the impact hospitality can have in the life of someone we have merely opened our door to.
Enjoy more articles on culture, community, and house and home: Simple Ways to Build Small Town Community in the Big City, Enjoying Life, Friendship, and Unscripted Moments, and 7 Secrets to Nesting for Every Woman