Saturday, July 23, 2011

Taking Hospitality with a Grain of Salt

Blessed is the man who can laugh at himself, for he will never cease to be amused. 

This proverb is one of my favorites. It reminds me not to take myself so seriously.
Last week I wrote about hospitality mishaps, and this reminds me to take things that go wrong with a grain of salt.

Being able to laugh at myself certainly helped me during a recent catastrophe. My husband and I had guests, and when I stood up to re-fill the tea glasses, the slip I was wearing under my skirt mysteriously slid down in perfect ring around my feet!  I won't go into that story now, but I'm pretty sure it broke the norms of hospitality in any country, not just here in Turkey. (I still can’t believe that really happened.)

On a more serious note, one thing I appreciate about living here is the chance it gives me to learn more about hospitality. Turks are some of the most generous and gracious hosts I've ever seen. Hospitality is a virtue and an art, whether it's a casual visit over Turkish coffee and a piece of chocolate or a dinner with 10 different dishes. I've learned a lot about how to receive guests in my home, but honestly I sometimes feel pressured to somehow live up to Turkish standards, and If I compare myself to them, I'll always fall short!

Here are some helpful lessons I’ve learned:

  • Relax and be yourself

I'll never be the Perfect Turkish Hostess (P.T.H.), and that is okay!  Instead I try to relax in and be who I am. The P.T.H. is elegantly dressed and serves delectable treats while she chats effortlessly with guests. She probably only exists in my head. I'm much better at being myself than at striving to put on a show of elaborate hospitality that just leaves me feeling stressed.

  • Keep it simple
Sometimes it feels like I’m forever in the kitchen preparing food for meetings or for guests.  This is a warning that I’m striving too hard to be a P.T.H., and I’d better simplify things instead. I've seen Turks get out a simple assortment of nuts, fruits and bought cookies for visitors. That’s a lot easier than baking a cake.

  • Focus on your Guests

I can't prepare a 10 course meal and be happy and relaxed when my guests arrive. What I can do is a salad, main dish, rice and maybe a vegetable or soup. If I keep things simple, I'm more relaxed and able to actually enjoy time with friends.  

  •  Find a Middle Ground

I want to be cross-culturally relevant, so that Turks can relate to me. I try to do some things their way. I can kiss my guests, offer slippers, pass around lemon cologne (if I remember) and make Turkish coffee. But on the inside, I’m still American, and I need to be myself as well. For example, a few weeks ago, I had to gently explain to a guest that I needed to leave, something that a P.T.H. would try to avoid. I find that most of my Turkish friends are extremely understanding and kind when I do things differently.

  • Laugh at yourself when things don't go as planned

During the Classic Turkish Moment I wrote about last week, when I found myself serving a dinner I’d made for 4 to 9 people instead, I laughed.  What else could I do? Keeping my sense of humor helps me to continue enjoying cross-cultural life and time with my friends.

After all, isn't enjoyment what gracious hospitality is all about?


Linda said...

Oh, Olive Tree, bless you for your sweet sense of humor over such incidents! You are full of grace.

I do wonder, though, what you did after your slip slipped...... Did you pull it up? Step out of it and tote it away?

Thanks for the smiles today!


OliveTree said...

I stepped aside and as quickly as I could, scooped it up, and walked out the door holding the slip, so that my guests could no longer see it!

Amazingly, when I told my husband later, he hadn't noticed!!!! But I know at least one neighbor saw it because she WINKED AT ME!!!!

thejoyproject40 said...

This is too sweet and wonderfully funny. I love how you are using humor to go deeper into God's grace and enjoy the moments!

Hannatu said...

Thanks for leaving a note on my blog. I've just looked over yours and already love it! My motto is, "If you're going to laugh about it later, you might as well start now."
My husband was born in Turkey. I've just finished (well...almost...just found another box full in the attic!) digitizing my late FIL's slides. He traveled extensively while there and I've found it a fascinating journey.

OliveTree said...

I love that motto, Hannatu! I'm going to remember it for sure.

stephanie garcia said...

Thank you for stopping by today! I enjoyed visiting your blog and reading your hospitality tips and funny stories. Living cross-culturally makes for lots of learning and laughter! :)