We’ve all heard stories of the spontaneous hospitality practiced many in non-Western countries. Some of us have experienced it when travelling far from home and being welcomed into strangers’ homes. But when those warm people who’ve always opened their doors spontaneously come to the West, they too often don’t return home with stories of spontaneous hospitality. In fact, in our Western world they often experience a “hospitality culture shock” of sorts.
This difference in our hospitality styles can be attributed to our cultural differences - relationship-orientation verses task-orientation. I live in Germany, a very task-oriented nation…which is filling with immigrants from relationship-oriented nations. A North African student recently talked about his experiences in Germany with me. “Most of my friends here are also North African. We can drop in on each other at almost any time. But Germans, no. The Germans are busy and protective of their time.”
“Busy.” “Protective of their time.” Would our neighbours, coworkers and friends describe us in this way?
When I hear comments like these, I wonder: how can we mix more spontaneity into our well-planned Western lives? We appreciate it when someone offers it to us, but it’s hard to make time for it in our own busy lives. As I look at our African, Middle Eastern, or Asian friends here in Germany, I realize: spontaneity is their language of friendship. A true friend will be available to you when you need them. A true friend will let you drop in on or call without making an appointment ahead of time. How can we be true friends to our warm, relationally-oriented friends?
My husband and I are learning a few ways that we can plan to be spontaneous — is that an oxymoron? In our experience…
Spontaneity in cross-cultural hospitality means keeping our evenings relatively unscheduled.
We don’t lock ourselves into a Monday night jogging group — we can jog on our own if Monday night is free. We have only one night and one morning a week that are virtually always booked, and a few days a month where we usually attend certain events. But otherwise, we keep a lot of our weeknights relatively open, which allows us to be free on short notice…because nothing says “I’m too busy” like having to book a simple dinner date six weeks ahead of time! In the past year, keeping our evenings relatively open has allowed us to be more spontaneous — to invite a friend who passed an important German exam out for dinner on the same night to celebrate, or to quickly find time for coffee with a friend going through a divorce.
Spontaneity in cross-cultural hospitality means limiting certain friendships.
We could hang out with our Christian friends or church groups almost every night of the week if we wanted to. But in order to build deep relationships with people of other religions and cultures, we have had to decide carefully how many church commitments or relationships to take on. We sometimes have to also limit the number of new relationships with cross-cultural friends we pursue, so we can be true, spontaneously-available friends to the foreign friends we already have. When we can, we try to plan events where friends of a variety of backgrounds can spend time with us together.
Spontaneity in cross-cultural hospitality often means setting counter-cultural priorities.
One of the main reasons that spontaneous hospitality doesn’t happen much in the West is because we are so busy with our “paid work” that we don’t have time for “unpaid work” like hospitality. It is good to regularly evaluate our standard of living and priorities, or to be willing to be counter-cultural in some of our decisions in regard to money, time and work. I am a freelancer, and sometimes people ask me why I don’t get a regular 9 to 5 job. “Wouldn’t you get extra benefits by working for an established company?” they ask. It’s hard to explain to them all the benefits we gain because my work-from-home schedule keeps me much more flexible.
You can foster spontaneity in hospitality by learning to:
1. hold your plans and schedule loosely,
2. keep a relatively organized, clean-ish home,
3. let people see your home even when it’s not organized and clean-ish,
4. always have something simple on hand that you can feed to drop-in guests,
5. offer guests simple fare or accommodations and not have to put on a show,
6. say “no” to some good things so you can say “yes” to the best things…
7. and much, much more….
The North African student I mentioned at the beginning of this post mentioned that one German student and his family have given him the gift he cherishes most: their time. That German student keeps in contact with him virtually daily. He invited the North African student to spend time with his family in their home. The North African student, who is a self-described “moderate Muslim” mused, “I don’t know if it’s because of their Christian faith that this German guy and his family take time for me. But they are the only Germans who have been so friendly and generous with their time.”
“Friendly.” “Generous with their time.” Could our foreign neighbours, coworkers and friends describe us in this way? Or are we busy running from task to task? Do they make the connection between our openness and generosity and our faith? Know that spontaneity doesn’t have to be as spontaneous as it looks. You can intentionally plan cross-cultural hospitality into your life by making some counter-cultural decisions. Let’s be known for our love — not our schedules.