In Praise of Hospitality

When's the last time you invited someone over for a cup of tea or a meal?

 [Photo by  Matthew Henry  on  Unsplash ]

[Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash]

I heard surprising statistics this weekend on the decline in American hospitality. We still have people over for food or what-have-you, but the frequency is going down. Not too hard to believe, considering the difficulty of aligning bazillion schedules to make things happen. In our own house, we'd been trying to get together with another family, with whom we'd been trading the "we should have you over" comment for a year. After a couple months of actually trying to schedule something among all of us, I threw in the towel and just asked the other mom if she wanted to hang out.

She did. And she even offered to make me the authentic Ghanian meal she had first dangled as a lure! Yowza.

First, there was "light soup," as in, not-heavy soup. (A heavy soup might be one that was peanut-based.) Oh. My. Word. Light soup consisted of a broth made of stewed chicken, tomato, and onions, in which floated pieces of said chicken and generous portions of Alaskan King Crab legs. My hostess said that, in Ghana, the tomato-onion base was referred to as "gravy." Good gravy, that was good gravy! I was so busy slurping down two bowls of light soup that I neglected to take a picture.

 Off to make some light soup. [Photo by  Billy Redd  on  Unsplash

Off to make some light soup. [Photo by Billy Redd on Unsplash

But I did get pictures of the fried plantains:

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done in a deep fryer and tasting like a cross between French fries and something faintly banana-y. We ate them mixed into the Jollof Rice:

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which was a little bit like Spanish rice. My hostess deliberately made the food "not spicy," but she passed some hot sauces from the nearby Vietnamese grocery store. It was a wonderful meal which I'll always remember--not just for the fabulous food, but also for her warmth and hospitality.

Because, did I mention that, before this lunch took place, I got the date mixed up and showed up one week early (oops), surprising her in her pajamas. "Are you sick?" I asked. To which she shook her head and answered, "No, but our lunch is next week." Oops oops. But the astonishing thing was, she insisted I come in anyhow for a cup of tea. Hospitality!

Too often we picture inviting people to eat as a lot of work. We think, not only must there be food and drink, but your house should look like it's just been professionally-staged.

 Feel free to pop by! And, yes, my house always looks like this. [Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Feel free to pop by! And, yes, my house always looks like this. [Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

But what if, like my friend, we threw open the door in our pajamas and just said, "Come on in! Love me, love my mess"?

Some years ago, my husband told me about a colleague he knew who said she always left a little project lying out, not cleaned up, when guests came over, so they'd know she was human and feel comfortable. I've taken this a little too much to heart, I guess, because I leave my dining-room-"office" as is, unless we need to eat off that table. Ditto for kids' backpacks, bags going to Goodwill, and empty packaging from Christmas--and that's just what I can see from where I sit! Love me, love my mess.

And what if we opened our homes and refrigerators to some of the new people piling into our schools and neighborhoods? Did you know that, according to the City of Bellevue website, 39% of our city population was born in over 90 different foreign countries?! How is that even possible? Are there even 90 countries on the planet? Moreover, "about 50 percent of [Bellevue's] population is of a minority race or ethnicity and 42 percent...speak a language other than English at home." You know what this means, don't you? It means there is a whole city out there of fabulous ethnic home-cooking, waiting to be sampled!

So invite over that one person you've been running into and make them something from your tradition. With any luck, they'll return the favor, and the world will be a warmer, tastier place.