“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.
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 it 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?
I am posting this from my archives, so that I can focus on two different talks I need to prepare this week.