Have you ever noticed that hospitality varies greatly from culture to culture? When I first made friends with people from other countries, I was surprised whenever they offered me food if I was only staying a short time. In fact, I frequently turned the food down because I was uncomfortable; it was so outside my norm! If I was hungry, I would eat after I left their house. I didn’t want to be rude by having them cook something for me.
It wasn’t until much, much later that I learned that sharing food was one of the ways that my friends expressed hospitality. In their homeland, you always offer food to a guest; not doing so is a sign of disrespect or poor hospitality. Whereas, when I was growing up, a guest was offered a drink, but food was only offered if the person was staying for a meal. Imagine the number of times that I unintentionally offended my friends by turning down food? Yikes! I’m so glad that they were kind enough to overlook this American’s bumbling behavior.
Since that time, I have noticed another key way that hospitality is demonstrated differently among my international friends. Many of my friends tell me to “come by anytime.” This is not something native-born Americans typically say! I’ve even tried to do it a couple of times. One time, I left the house determined to just show up at my friend’s door, but then I felt guilty for not telling them that I was coming so I stopped along the way and called! I just couldn’t bring myself to break the cultural habit of getting permission before arriving.
I’m not quite sure why my international friends feel more comfortable with the idea of spontaneous visits then I do, (and possibly many other native-born Americans). I think this type of spontaneity was more common at one time in our history. If so, I’m not sure why we stopped. Perhaps it’s because we stay so busy that we prefer to work (and visit) at scheduled times. Or it could be that we don’t like the idea of inconveniencing our friends or interrupting their privacy; spontaneous visits make us feel like we are doing both. Whatever the reason, it’s unlikely that an American friend will “come by anytime” even if you extend the offer multiple times.
What does this mean for your friendship with Americans? Well, it definitely does not mean Americans are rejecting you. When you offer food, consider telling your friend how sharing food demonstrates hospitality in your country (or let them know that offering food is something you enjoy doing). If you want an American to visit your house, set a day and time with them. They’ll feel more comfortable, and you’ll still get to visit. Since cross-cultural friendships involve exploration and lots of grace, consider hospitality one of the areas where you’ll constantly be learning and growing with your American friends!