Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesdays: Lessons on Hospitality, Courtesy of My Mom

Like being a good guest, being a good host can take on myriad different forms. I have less experience hosting than I do being a guest, but I love being hospitable. I learned my hospitality skills from the best: not only my excellent couchsurfing and volunteer hosts, but from one of my greatest role models— my mom. Pragmatic, thrifty, and no-nonsense, my mom isn’t the stereotypical hostess who pours attention on guests. But she makes anyone who enters her house feel welcomed and at home. And that’s the point of hosting, isn’t it? Here are some miscellaneous techniques for no-frills hosting of overnight guests. 

Clean up the house enough to be welcoming… A dirty or disastrously-messy house can be a bit off-putting to guests. Do a quick pick-up, vacuum a floor or two, and spray some Febreze around. Be sure that all the seats are free of clutter. Throw the extra junk into a closet somewhere. Light a candle or burn incense.

I couldn't for the life of me find a good photo for this blog… so instead,
here's a picture of Mom's cockatiel, Fiddler, in a tissue box.
(That's Mom in the background, shielding her eyes from the flash.)
…but don’t freak out if it’s not very clean. It happens to all of us: we walk into our friend’s apartment and she says, “Sorry for the mess!” And we just stare awkwardly at the couple piles of clutter and feel guilty about our own much messier room back home. You are more likely to make people uncomfortable if your living room is spotless than you are if there are a few heaps of miscellaneous papers on the end table.

Provide a supply of delicious food… Food is a universal language, and almost everyone loves it. I am constantly amazed at how impressed people are by something as relatively simple as homemade cookies. Anything remotely homemade looking— even if it’s a baguette you bought at Walmart served with olive oil and a sprinkling of parmesan— is sure to make people feel honored and welcomed.

…but don’t feel pressured to make something fancy or extravagant. If all you have in the fridge is a two-dollar frozen pizza (and you can’t afford to buy anything else until payday), then have no qualms about throwing it in the oven. Food is important, and it’s great to provide a personal touch, but good hosting is about you, not your food.

Don’t ask for help… This rule only applies to “guest” guests. With family members or close friends, always ask for help!

…but readily accept help if it’s offered. Many people (like me) would rather help out than sit around. Give your guest a clear and easy task and use the time as a chance to talk.

Engage your guests… When it comes down to interacting with people, no amount of advice can prepare you— you just need to practice. If you are relaxed, your guests will relax. If sitting and talking is making you antsy, find an activity everyone enjoys. And of course, be prepared to be a tour guide!

…but go to bed when you’re tired. Don’t force yourself to stay up late for guests— if you’re tired, stand up, announce that the house is theirs, ask them if there’s anything else they need, tell them to grab something from the pantry if they get hungry (and give specific examples of snack options to make sure they know you mean it), and then go to bed. It’s amazing how liberating for guests this simple act can be. It says, “I trust you with this house, and I don’t have to entertain you— as long as you’re here, you’re a member of the family.”

As I said, there are many different kinds of hosting. But “Raid the fridge, I’m going to bed now” hosting is still, by far, my favorite. 


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