Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a series of four that will address the subject of hospitality. In this post, we will hear from an American about her experience hosting Chinese students at her home. 

A New Perspective

“Make yourself at home” is a common phrase you’ll hear when entering an American home. In our culture, we tend to show hospitality by ceding control over to the guest. If the guest wants a drink, they can ask for one, or better yet, they can go to the fridge and grab one themselves, just as they would at their own home. If the guest is hungry, they have the freedom to enter the pantry and open up a bag of chips at will. In a lot of ways, in American hospitality the guest has full control – and thus full responsibility – over his or her own comfort.

However, in Chinese culture, this responsibility is reversed. The host is responsible for making her guest comfortable. The first time I found myself a guest in a Chinese home, I was unaware of this role reversal. I was surprised when I was offered slippers to wear and given a drink and snack without asking for one. I was also very caught off guard when my plate was automatically refilled with food even though I did not ask for more (and, in fact, didn’t want more!) I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I realize now that my Chinese host was not trying to be controlling. Quite the contrary, she was exercising great hospitality according to her culture!

What I’ve Learned

In light of this, how can Americans be good hosts to Chinese guests? I have struggled with this question, because I know when Chinese guests come to my home, they expect to experience American culture. However, I don’t want them to feel offended if they do not understand the American style of hospitality! I think the best thing for American hosts to do is to offer a little of both. We can try to emulate the Chinese style of hosting, while still allowing our friends to experience American culture through our food and friendship.

Instead of saying “make yourself at home” or “would you like something to drink?,” I’ve learned simply to just provide my guests with drinks. My question instead has become “would you prefer water or tea?” Don’t put your guest in the position of asking, or she might feel like she is troubling you with her request.

Instead of asking “are you hungry?,” go ahead and just offer a snack or a meal. The food doesn’t have to be elaborate. You do not have to cook Chinese food or serve the meal with chopsticks. In fact, preparing your “normal” every day fare is an opportunity for your guests to experience American culture. Personally, I like to serve spaghetti to my Chinese guests – it’s very easy to make, and they seem to enjoy eating it! I haven’t yet scooped more food onto an empty plate of a Chinese guest, but I will heartily encourage them to get more if their plate is empty.

Finally, I always try to ask my guests questions about Chinese culture, about their hometown, about their family, and about their experience in the US so far. It is very fun to learn what differences (perhaps, like hospitality!) stand out most to them between the US and China . 

Whatever you end up doing as you host your guests, one thing will remain true: hosting students from another culture is a great learning experience, not just for our guests but also for us as hosts!

Thoughts to Ponder

How do you balance expressing your own cultural identity as a host, while also showing hospitality to your guests that will be well-received according to their culture?

How has experiencing hospitality in another culture shaped the way you show hospitality to others?