The Art of Hospitality

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Living in a different culture I have seen a different side of hospitality.  I frequently visit Dominicans’ homes for a few hours or a few days.  On my visits I have noticed many differences between here and where I grew up in Minnesota.

Let’s first distinguish the two types of cultures, hot and cold.  While that is not necessarily related to the climate, it often corresponds accordingly.  The majority of the United States, Northern Europe, Canada, Australia and other countries largely settled by Europeans are what would be considered cold-climate cultures, or task-oriented. Latin America, where I am living, is considered a warm-climate culture or a relationship-based culture, along with some of the Southern USA, Pacific Islands South America, Africa, the Mediterranean countries, the Middle East and the majority of the rest of the world. (For more on this read the book Foreign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier.)

It’s strange to think about, the differences in cultures.  You may not be able to fully grasp what I am attempting to explain without living in a different culture.  Keep in mind that each culture has its own good and bad attributes.  While I have fallen in love with warm-climate hospitality I have an innate part of my cold-climate culture ways in me because it is what I have known the majority of my life.

In cold-climate cultures we must plan ahead.  We plan play-dates, coffee chats, and family events far in advanced.  If I were to show up to a strangers home, they most likely wouldn’t answer the door or turn me away if they did.  When we host someone at our own home it is a big production, something special.  We clean our house spotless and cook our best meal.  More often than not we opt to go out to eat with people instead of go through the hassle of preparing our homes for them.

I think that this stems from the busyness of our culture.  If I were to drop by my friend’s home, they probably wouldn’t be there.  Most of us do not stay at home all day but have jobs and schedules to follow.  We have cars and transportation systems that take us far from home and let us travel.  Our homes are a place of privacy, a place to relax and get away from the busy world.  Inviting someone in lets them in to our private lives.  This is why only close friends and family have an open invitation to drop by our unprepared homes.

In hot-climate cultures, I have found hospitality is much more of a priority but also a way of living. Relationships are highly valued and sought after.  It is not rude to stop by someones house unexpectedly and you may not plan ahead to get together.  People will continue to go about their tasks while you are in their company and you are not considered a hindrance.  You will almost immediately be offered coffee or another beverage and asked to stay for the meal.  You are always welcomed and encouraged to come by.

I think this has to do with the nature of the people.  People are generally more relaxed and easygoing in this type of culture.  You will find if you do set a time to meet, being an hour late, or even two, is not uncommon.  People also tend to stay close to home.  The women are usually taking care of the children and cooking while the husband is out working.

One time I was staying at a family’s home for the first time in the Dominican.  I was then to meet the entire neighborhood.  We went around visiting with their friends and meeting their family.  There was no rush or schedule.  I enjoyed it a great deal and my only wish was that I had more time to spend with them.

Now in saying all of this I realize I am generalizing a great deal.  There are individuals in both cultures that are different.  I have plenty of people in my cold-climate culture that have opened up their home to me freely and I’m sure their are people in the warm-climate cultures who feel the need to have more privacy and close their door.

My mind now wanders to the Biblical example of Martha and Mary.  I assume their culture, if the same as today, was a warm-climate one.  Martha was going about her daily routine when Jesus stopped by.  This was not an uncommon appearance so Martha continued to prepare a meal.  She was going about her daily tasks.  Jesus coming in was welcomed but was not special.  Mary going and sitting with Jesus and the other men was out of the ordinary.  Mary feeling the draw of listening to Jesus’ words probably abandoned her daily tasks leaving Martha to do the work.  When Martha confronts this difference, she finds that Mary made the right decision.  Martha was merely doing what she knew, not stopping to think anything could be different in this moment.

We see a new side of this event while looking through a cultural lens.  Martha was following the cultural aspects of hospitality while Mary was straying away from the cultural traditions.

I only want to explain to you how the art of hospitality differs in cultures around the world.  Different does not mean wrong or right.  Rather it is simply different.  We need to be aware of these differences while crossing cultures in ministry, in business relations, or in conversations with people from another culture.