Seven Rules of Hospitality to Be Denied
My parents didn't host their friends or relative for more than two nights. They would never dream of staying as guests for more than two nights. This held true when driving eight hours to a parent's home in Los Angeles or after driving three days. Even true at Christmas time.
A plaque I saw in a rental cabin verifies my parents were not alone in their reluctance to impose--how much a guest might politely hope for. Humor or truth?
That someone would put this up in their vacation home in the mountains seems meant to deter friends or relatives from overstaying their welcome. The plaque was not handmade, but manufactured. So apparently a demand to make known this stingy sentiment exists: enough buyers to justify producing it.
Is this a peculiarly American frugality? I've encountered friends who happily put up their parents for a month or go stay with a friend for a week. Most of the gracious hosts I've known are people from other lands.
Is the limitation of hospitality-efforts a product of the modern "boundary" movement? Or does this plaque express the modern reality of busy lives where women, already tired through jobs outside and inside the home, have no energy left to change beds and to cook extra-large meals?
Actually, the motto orgiginated long ago. It was printed in Benjamin Franklin's Almanack of 1736. He was apparently not unique in being cranky about long-staying guests. As far back as 1580, Euphues wrote, "As we say in Athens, fishe and gestes in three dayes are stale." In other words, more than three days is beyond the capacity of even a generous person.
My younger daughter has finished a stay of five weeks with us. She was returning home, not a true guest, but the joyful experience did require adjustments from us. My husband and I altered how early in the morning we clanked around the kitchen, what food we bought and served, how long we sat chatting at the table, and her presence brought sharing of our two vehicles among three drivers.
Her stay overlapped with that of my oldest daughter and her husband of 18 months. Consequently, I'm in my sixth week of sharing space and food. We've had wonderful happy times, proving that the motto of "three days and then stink" does not have to hold true. Yet, if I were to persist in following the hospitality mores my mother followed in her world of three-day stays, I'd collapse or shriek.
Here are new ways I've learned from others or bent rules of my childhood. I've also modified other models I've observed and tried to emulate at times, particularly components of the ample hospitality given me by wonderful Japanese friends.
Today, the eighth of my daughter and son-in-love's eleven-day sojourn, I served a hodge-podge lunch from three different meals. We all ate and were satisfied.
2) Stay with your guests and devote yourself to making sure they have a good time.
My parents did this--feasible for two solid days together. But when people stay with you a week or two, it's too much.
I remember when we stayed with Swiss-German friends living outside of Lucerne. Our hosts told us to go off and do our own sightseeing. They gave us suggestions and directions. We enjoyed two days of going out to see the sights with them and the other five days we had great times on our own.
3) Ask for help! Directly!
I've learned to say, "Would you mind emptying the dishwasher?" It felt forward and awkward at first--so un-Japanese. But, as my daughter says, "I try to avoid the pouty look." That is, if I hint or wait for others to volunteer assistance when I'm exhausted, and they don't tune in to my subtle messages, I become sullen.
Saying directly what I need helps others. They don't have the burden of trying to guess. When a guest happily chips in, everyone feels better. This is probably the most important changing of my mores.
4) Go food shopping together
My mother always had all the groceries bought before the guests arrived. It would be rude to run out to he store when the guest was with her only a limited time--a sign of poor planning. But there's another way to look at the grocery issue.
We'd like to make others happy with the food we serve, but how can we know what they like? Take them to the grocers with me. I learned this from a Japanese friend who hosted me long ago. So, two days ago, my husband, daughter and son-in-love went to Costco. By shopping with us, our guests could point out the kind of bread they liked and the kind of fruit they wanted; we're happy to make them happy.
5) Beds can go unmade
It's certainly wonderful for a guest to enter a room with beds neatly made, but it's not essential. When my days have been too full and guests arrive before dinner time, I've left it to a guest to make her own bed. (hmm--notice the she; maybe a bit of sexism here). No one has minded.
6) Take my energy temperature. Give myself time-outs as needed.
This morning I went out for breakfast with my husband. This left guests to pour cereal and milk themselves. I returned better disposed due to my break and our couple time.
In her days of hosting, mom cooked coffee cake, assembled casseroles, and made cookies--everything homemade as a sign of her esteem or affection for her guests. The only time we went out with guests was when they suggested it and then they would treat us.
I break this norm. I first observed my in-laws doing so and decided it's okay, perhaps best, to eat out or get take-out (even at cheap places) when my husband and I are feeling tired of cooking.
Another kind of break for me is going back to my bedroom to read or write, as I'm doing now. Together time is marvelous, but after a week I need to refuel my introverted self.
What I figure I can do or not do varies with the month and the year. I've come into this holiday season tired, so I've pulled back some. As I age, I must learn to expect less of myself.
7) Communicate and don't assume
Maybe my guests don't want a big complicated meal the day after a feast. I can ask, "How hungry are you? Would soup and crackers be enough for dinner?"
I have a tendency to turn a "like" into a "must." If I know a guest likes strawberries, for example, I start to think I must always have those berries on hand. Not so--a good friend does not want to burden me.
What about the rest of you? How long a stay by a friend or relative works well for you? How can you tell when you're doing too much? In what ways do you find help when the joy of hosting becomes too heavy a load?