10 Things (about Cross-Cultural Hospitality) I Didn't Know Last Year - 2017 Edition

BBC News has an interesting column on their website called "10 Things We Didn't Know Last Week" where they feature some of the most interesting tidbits they learned in the last week. At the end of this second year at The Serviette, I wanted to do what I did last year on the same day — share ten things I didn't know last year, but that I learned this year through hospitality or through The Serviette. I hope you learn a few things from this list, too! 

hosting guests of other religions and cultures
  1. Partnering with other Christians in your hospitality efforts is a thing. We're learning to invite others along to help us with a meal or party, if they're interested, or to accept offers of help. Just having one extra like-minded person along to assist with preparing, serving, or cleaning up after a meal can make such a difference. Sometimes partnering with others is almost a necessity, such as when singles want to reach out to entire families of Muslims, it's best to partner with a family or group where both genders are represented.
  2. Speaking of which, this year I noticed that the best way to teach cross-cultural hospitality is to invite others along to be part of what you're doing. That Christian friend who says, "I don't think I could ever host a Muslim for dinner" is (perhaps) a friend you can simply invite to the table with your Muslim friend. So much of what we learn about hospitality simply comes from being hosted. It's fun to think about how to "'pair" guests of different cultures who might otherwise never eat a meal together.
  3. Your international friends might not know the difference between Good Friday and Black Friday. Hosting someone at Easter can give you the opportunity to answer this question and others!
  4. Most people from other nations eat their potatoes peeled; they may not be big fans of eating the skin like we often do now in North America.
  5. Chinese guests often enjoy being asked to help with a meal. A Chinese reader of The Serviette offered this explanation to what I had observed about our Chinese guests: "Chinese people show affection primarily through actions. So preparing a meal together is one way to express that, especially given how central food is in relationship building. Preparing a meal, eating together, and pitching in to wash up is how you show care. It's how my grandma taught my mom, and how my mom taught me."
  6. Reverse hospitality, or offering to take a meal to someone else's house, might be just what a friend needs when it's harder for him or her to get out. This year a friend offered to bring over homemade pizza dough and toppings and make pizza at our place, and it hit the spot.
  7. Games that require knowledge of pop culture are usually not so fun for internationals.
  8. “God has made forks and spoons, pans, pots, and plates weapons of war against the darkness" - read more here
  9. Having an outsider live in your home with you (for real life, not just vacation) is one of the best ways to go deeper with that person and have an impact with them for eternity. Having a full-time guest in your home can also be challenging, but I'd encourage you to consider it. The eternal pros often outweigh the temporary cons. For example, this year my husband met a German man who became a follower of Jesus through living with a Christian host family in America. 
  10. Prayer about specific hospitality ventures works! Maybe I knew this before this year in theory, but in 2017, we saw several potentially-difficult situations resolved even better than we could have expected. God can work out the details of your hospitality ventures, if you pray about them. 

Thanks for being part of this growing community of hosts and wannabe hosts who are learning to share our lives with people of other cultures, religions and backgrounds! Our ongoing conversation about the ins and outs of welcoming new and different people into our homes always encourages me. I look forward to continuing to learn along with you in 2018!

Ideas: Showing Hospitality When You Can't Open Your Doors

Although I regularly advocate for opening our doors and practicing hospitality in our own homes, there are situations that make opening our doors impossible. You know the kind of stuff I'm talking about — illness or overtime, a busy stage with little children, a spouse who's not on the same page about hospitality, a home that's too small or inconveniently located to host guests — and the list could go on. Or maybe a person you're trying to love on is unable to come to your home due to his or her own challenges or location.

Here are 8 ideas for how you can practice heart-felt hospitality — every day, even — when you can't open your doors. When these kinds of activities come out of a caring, generous spirit, they are hospitality — just on different turf. 

(Keep in mind that depending on the culture of the friends to whom you are showing hospitality, some of these gestures might be more or less appreciated. But it usually doesn't hurt to ask if you can help your cross-cultural friend in one of these ways anyway, and see what kind of response you get.) 

1. Pray, and let your friend know you are praying. 

Maybe you feel like "all you can do is pray". Well, that's the best thing you could do for your friend anyway! Sometimes it's appropriate to tell your friend that you're praying for them, too, so they know that they're not far from your thoughts. Don't be too hesitant to tell a friend of another worldview or religious background that you're praying for them — even if they don't believe in prayer, they usually don't think it can hurt, either!

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2. Write a letter or a thoughtful email. Or call.

In this world of instant, brief and trivial communication, a kind and thoughtful letter in the mail or even a personal email means a lot. In the time it would take you to prepare your house and a meal for guests, you could probably write and send 4 or 5 letters to people who'd appreciate them. I know several elderly people who don't have guests into their homes very often, but write longhand letters faithfully and consistently — they are expressing a hospitable spirit! If you usually communicate by text or email, giving someone a call can also be a kind way to show you care.

3. Hang around longer than usual.

If you're a church-goer, you probably know that there are the attendees who always rush out the door as soon as the service is over, and the attendees whom you almost always have to kick out of the building because they stay so long. I am always happy when I see the latter — people wanting to linger and spend time with each other. It's a good sign. And in a culture where "time is money" or individuality is prized above community, your decision to stay a little longer at a gathering you're attending and simply chat with guests and make them feel welcome is a precious gift. Maybe you can't invite them to your house for a meal, but if possible, setting aside your rush or loosening up your tight schedule to give people time to share what's on their hearts — that's hospitality, no matter where it happens. 

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4. Offer to visit your friend at his or her house instead of yours.

This is not something that everyone will take you up on, but you might be surprised how many people prefer to have you visit their houses than not to see you at all! 😊 In many Eastern cultures, people are more honoured to host than to be hosted, so your visit is an honour to them! If you want to suggest to someone that you'd like to drop by, try asking if you can come at a time that is clearly between mealtimes, so they know they don't have to cook, and even say specifically that you don't need to be fed anything. Or tell them you'd like to bring food with you (see #8, below). I always remember a single friend of my mom's who cooked a meal and brought it to our house when we were kids — her out-of-the-ordinary gesture (because she lived in a small house) stood out to me because it was so kind but unusual.

If your friend is from a cold culture and you think he or she might be worried about how long you'll stay, you can even give a timeframe, like "Could I drop by for half an hour on my way to the store?" If your friend is from a warm culture, he or she might be happy to have you drop by spontaneously.

5. Send flowers or a surprise gift.

If your friend is local, you can drop off a gift at his or her door. But through the internet, you can usually easily get a gift to your friend's door, no matter where you or they live. This costs a bit more than sending a letter, but if you can afford it, it can be extra fun for the recipient. (This is just my weird sense of humour, but the idea of surprising someone a stuffed organ after a surgery makes me laugh. Warning: may not be considered funny in some cultures. 😊)

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6. Offer to help someone with tasks they need help doing, or to loan them objects they need so they don't have to buy them.

Internationals often need help with documents, finding housing,  or other various tasks before their language and cultural skills are up to par. People who are sick, elderly or particularly busy (like with small children) can often use help with a few random tasks around the house. Lots of people won't ask for help, but if you make a specific offer (like "Next week I have time to go the immigration office with you. Do you want me to help you?") they may take you up on it. Also, international students sometimes borrow odds and ends like tools or gadgets they don't have from us. A friend of mine has been cleaning her elderly neighbours' toilets regularly for years — a sort of reverse hospitality — and having occasional meaningful conversations with them as a result. This year, her neighbour started reading the Bible!  

7. Offer to drop off / pick up someone at the airport, or drive them somewhere they need to go.

Singles, internationals, or people without a vehicle — OK, or basically anyone — can be especially glad for this kind of hospitality. If you hear someone is coming or going and you have time to drop them off or pick them up, ask if they could use your help. It's always nicer to have someone ask if they can help, than to have to ask for the favour. And airport parking or taxis can be really expensive. 

8. Find creative ways to share or provide meals. 

Take someone out to eat, send food to them, or sign them up for a meal service for a few meals at your expense. I've seen people who don't like cooking or can't cook regularly due to their schedules offer to take their friends out on their own tab — always a kind gesture. You can help cook or serve a meal somewhere other than in your home: at a friend's house, at a soup kitchen, at church. Parents of young children have commented that it's a treat when friends bring food to them, and eat with them at their place, so that their children can be in their normal environment and/or have naps at the usual times.

These are just a few ways I've thought of to show the generous, giving spirit of hospitality even if it's not in our homes. Do you have any more ideas you can add to my list, especially of things that don't necessarily take a lot of time, but show that you care? 

Ideas: Four Ways to Make Serving Meals Easier

Last year I wrote a post about Showing Hospitality Without Cooking because serving meals is not the only form of hospitality. However, we do talk a lot on The Serviette about sharing meals because it is one of the most effective ways to get to know others and to let them get to know you. Plus, everyone has to eat each day—why not do so together? 

My husband and I have months when we have lots of guests, and then months when we find ourselves juggling more responsibilities than usual and have fewer guests over for meals than we'd like. It's easy for me to make excuses as to why we can't have guests on a particular evening. However, here are four ways I'm learning to make serving meals to guests more doable, even on a weeknight or with short notice.

Intentionally make a simple meal.

When it's just the two of us, sometimes I try time-consuming things like making my own tortillas or stuffing my own cannelloni or putting six bowls of toppings on the table. But when we're hosting more than a couple of people or when I don't have a lot of time, I try to choose one-dish meals or at least one-course meals which are easy to scale. You can buy canned (gasp!) instead of fresh, or buy ready-made instead of making your own, if it makes the difference between you having the energy to have guests or not. And am I the only one who thinks soup with a hearty bread and cheese side counts as a full meal? I even serve frozen or boxed pizza to guests once in a while. We often serve chocolate with coffee after the meal, which gives our guests something sweet without us having to plan a dessert. Fruit can be another easy "dessert". 

Let your guests help you.

Depending on the culture of your guest, he or she may offer to bring food along or to help you clean up after the meal. If you feel comfortable doing so, take your guest up on his offer! You can chat over vegetable chopping just as easily as you can chat over coffee in the living room. We had one friend in our last city who came over regularly and was particularly good about noticing what needed to be done. If she walked in and we hadn’t set the table yet, she started setting it. I tried to learn to make the best of her help by keeping the dishes or disposables consistently in the same places so that she felt comfortable opening the cupboards and lending a hand. And speaking of disposables...

Do what you can to reduce clean-up time.

Last year we started using disposable dishes for parties or large groups because we realized that some nights after guests left, we were spending over an hour cleaning up dishes. For us, going to bed an hour earlier was surely worth the extra cost of simple paper plates and cups. In Germany most everything can be recycled, which makes us feel better about using disposables from time to time. This year, we moved to a bigger apartment and were able to buy a dishwasher, and this has significantly shortened the clean-up time after guests and we buy way fewer disposables. Another way to save on clean-up time is to wash the dishes together while the guest is still with you. Sometimes if we have a guest who stays extra long, I get up and start cleaning while we're chatting. (I think sometimes it's OK to show your guest that it's getting late and you have things you need to do.)

Remember why you're serving the meal.

The true heart behind hospitality isn’t to impress your guests, it’s to love them. When you have the right heart attitude about what you’re doing, you’ll be surprised how much easier the rest gets.

10 Things (about Cross-Cultural Hospitality) I Didn't Know Last Year

BBC News has an interesting column on their website called "10 Things We Didn't Know Last Week" where they feature some of the most interesting tidbits they learned in the last week. As we wrap up the first year of The Serviette, I wanted to do something similar—I'm sharing ten things I didn't know last year, but that I learned this year through developing The Serviette. I hope you learn something new through this list, too!

  1. One creative way to make an international friend is to befriend one of the servers at your favourite Asian restaurant.
  2. Even though sometimes we think that speaking to international guests in their second or third language seems less than ideal for deep conversation, an American in Korea observed that Koreans often share more openly in English than in Korean. We've also met people this year who say they prefer to read the Bible in a language other than their first! 
  3. Asking a Muslim friend the meaning of his or her name can be a meaningful conversation starter. Your friend might also want to know about the origin of your name or how you chose your children's names. 
  4. Hosting Mormon missionaries for dinner can be a great opportunity for meaningful conversation around your table. I was even told that if you invite them over, they're not supposed to say "no"!
  5. A casual weekly supper club where different club members take turns hosting each other can be an interesting opportunity to eat communally regularly, and to see each other in various roles (sometimes as host, sometimes as guest).
  6. Desserts that can be cut into squares are great when you're feeding a crowd, because they're less tedious to put together and can be cut bigger or smaller depending how many guests appear on your doorstep!
  7. When you're hosting long-term overnight guests, it's important to get enough rest, so that you aren't cranky with your guests. Try to give yourself some margin if you're opening your home to someone who is not usually there.
  8. Lots of hosts and hostesses consider themselves introverts but still open their doors to strangers and guests regularly. (Here's one introvert hostess' story.)
  9. Sometimes foreign guests may bring you food gifts that you find hard to swallow. If you're fortunate, maybe you can eat the food after your guest leaves. One such food recipient's creative response was to ask her friend if she could take the gift of food home "to share with her children"—which saved her from having to choke down the whole dish of fermented rice right then and there.
  10. If you are living in a country which is not your own, offering hospitality to people from your host country (no matter how intimidating that might seem, since you're the outsider) can be one of the best ways to begin to integrate into your new homeland.

I learned so much this year about the power of hospitality this year, through interviews and interactions on social media with all of you. A personal lesson about hospitality that I learned is that the people who are in our home regularly will often become our closest and most reliable friends in that season of life. Hospitality based on truth and love gives an opportunity for unique, meaningful relationships to develop. While sometimes we avoid hospitality because we think we don't have time for it, often it is the people to whom we have gifted our time who end up graciously giving us their time and love back when we need it. 

Thanks for following us during this first year here at The Seviette—here's to many more years of serving others by sharing our tables, and creatively bridging cultural and religious gaps with grace and truth!

Remembering People's Names as an Expression of Hospitality

From the get-go, one of the most challenging things about befriending internationals is often learning their names. East Asian names seem particularly difficult for Westerners. It happened to us again today—a Chinese guy showed up at our new fellowship and sat behind us, looking timid but open. We found out it was his first Sunday at the church. My husband chatted him up and asked him his name and then tried multiple times (somewhat unsuccessfully) to pronounce it correctly. I heard the guest's name about 5 times, and within 10 minutes I had already forgotten it. But I need to work harder at remembering names, even Chinese names!

Not long ago I read a short piece by Mary Mohler on hospitality and she spoke of remembering people's names as a simple but important element of hospitality. I had never thought of it that way. She says,

"Can you associate with the common problem of being introduced to someone and immediately forgetting that person's name? Many people do not listen well when meeting someone new....and then feel reluctant to admit that [they] were not paying attention. The wrong assumption is commonly made that those who remember people's names are just 'great with names,' as if they have a genetic marker for that. The truth is that those who are adept at remembering names invest time and effort in learning them. Consider it an act of encouragement and yes, an expression of hospitality to call someone by name. Do you know anyone who is not pleased to be called by her name?"

"Consider it an expression of hospitality to call someone by name. — M. Mohler

Mohler suggested intentionally learning someone's name by listening carefully, saying the name to yourself or picturing the name, and taking notes that will jog your memory (if you are trying to remember several names). YouTube has lots of additional ideas for how to remember people's namesHowever, learning an international person's name can be especially difficult...although you may find that it gets a little easier as you meet more and more people of the same culture, because some names you will hear again. 

This is my favourite tool for learning a person's name: as long as the situation is appropriate, I ask for his or her phone number and in the process, get him or her to spell the name out. Sometimes I do this at the end of a conversation in which I have already forgotten the person's name. A simple, "Can you help me spell your name?" (and then letting that person type the name into your phone) can help overcome the awkwardness of already having forgotten the name, and give you a chance to learn the person's name before the next time you meet.

Try asking people of other cultures the meaning of their names.

Another name-related tip that I learned from Jodie, who shared with us about hospitality to Muslims, is to ask people of other cultures the meaning of their names. In many cultures the meaning of someone's name is significant. When you hear the name, it means nothing to you, but if you spoke the person's native language, it probably would. Lately I asked a few Muslims the meaning of their names, and this both provided a bit more connection with them and also served as an additional data point to associate with their foreign-sounding names. Knowing a person's name meaning can also provide an interesting conversation starter or a reminder of how to pray for your international friend. The two names I learned recently had something to do with "peace" and "star"—meanings that I can easily associate with a prayer I have for those people.

Mohler tells a story of how someone told her once that her simple act of remembering his name had brightened his mood and encouraged him in the midst of a gloomy time in his studies. Knowing that motivated her to keep learning names. You will also find, as you work at remembering stranger's names, people will feel God's love through this little act of love on your part. Something as simple (or not-so-simple) as learning an international acquaintance's name can build a foundation for a meaningful relationship, and express God's heart of hospitality.