I’ve said before that there’s no hospitality like Nigerian hospitality, and it’s true. My mom enjoys entertaining and my parents will happily welcome strangers into their home without advance notice and without caring about the state of their house—after all, the person isn’t a home inspector (besides, any critical comments would be eliminated by a taste of my mom’s excellent cooking!). I generally don’t share my parents’ enthusiasm for entertaining (especially if the guest is expecting Nigerian cooking!) and I dislike being surprised by last-minute guests because I like having time to prepare…and by “prepare”, I mean clean up. I don’t mind living in messy quarters but I don’t want to subject someone else to it. My dad has always challenged me on this: if I claim to be comfortable with my environment, why do I clean up when someone’s coming over? Why can’t I roll with it without feeling the need to apologize for the mess? Why do I worry about being judged? Why can I clean for someone else but I choose not to keep things neat for myself?
My dad is always asking those questions you don’t want to spend too much time thinking about!
Hospitality is all about making the other person feel welcome by anticipating their needs and trying to meet the needs before your guest asks. You also get the opportunity to channel your inner “Naija mom” by asking your guest if they’re hungry dozens of times. If someone will be spending some time with you, stocking the fridge with the kinds of food you think they may enjoy is nice. Actually, let me pause on the topic of food for a moment: if you are hosting a party, do not be caught setting a stingy table—when your guests have to ration the amount of food they serve themselves because they’re afraid the people behind them won’t get enough, dare I say that you may be close to flunking Hospitality 101?
I’ll never forget a poor example of hospitality that I experienced: I dropped something off at the home of an older (non-Naija) woman as a favour. She invited me inside her home; I declined but she insisted. Usually when you sit down after someone has invited you into their home, they’ll offer you something to drink. Not this time: we sat for hours while she talked and sipped a beverage, and she didn’t so much as offer me a glass of water. In my experience, fellow immigrants are more hospitable.
I had the honour of hosting a former (maybe she’s only on hiatus!) blogger in my home for a couple of days and thankfully her arrival coincided with my plans to do a deep cleaning of my home. Knowing she was coming, I started with the room she’d be staying in, which thankfully is the least cluttered room of the house anyway. I moved to the bathroom she’d be using and then to the powder room, living room and the kitchen (which, along with the dining room table, I did not finish cleaning). Do you have a junk drawer in your home? I have a whole junk room, where I toss things, helter skelter, waiting for that magical extra time I’ll have one day to clean it all up. The room has my childhood bed and a bathroom so it was where I would be sleeping and I didn’t clean it one bit, not even to save face.
I wasn’t completely confident about the state of my house and before bringing my friend to my place I had a daydream where my houseguest peeked into the junk room and recoiled in horror, telling mutual friends about it, and snapping a picture for posterity, but once I got a grip my attitude changed to So what?! You’re providing her a fairly neat living space and a comfortable place to sleep and besides, she’s here to see you, not your house! I’d love to be a minimalist, living in a home with clean lines and lots of white space but I’m not. The reality is:
- I’ve printed off tons of things over the years that I intend to read, and I like to keep them around to remind me that I need to read them.
- I keep the paper copy of all my bills and have a system of paying a bill, writing on each bill when I paid it, and filing it in one of my filing cabinets—and I’m behind in my filing.
- I love making paper crafts, so I have a craft nook of myriad supplies that have yet to be sorted and organized. In the meantime I use my dining room table for crafts and for blogging-related stuff.
- While I love baking, I sometimes let the baking pans sit around for while before putting them away (and I need more space for supplies—or I need fewer supplies!).
And oh: did I mention that none of my windows have curtains on them? :)
I’m low maintenance, and my house matches that. Normally I would have been stressed to the max at the thought of not presenting a perfectly tidy home to my guest but instead I was filled with peace about the whole thing.
One thing I’ve learned from years of living with hospitable parents is that what makes a person feel at home isn’t how elegantly furnished your home is, or how big your home is, rather it’s how YOU make your guest feel. If I was a neat-freak who spent all the time my guest was around tidying up behind her, she wouldn’t have felt at all welcome; in fact she’d feel like she better leave ASAP because she’s giving me more work to do. On the other hand, if my house was so messy that finding a clean spot to lay her head was like Mission: Impossible, she’d be disgusted.
Unlike my mom, I couldn’t dazzle my friend with my cooking skills—in fact I warned her about a particularly garlicky dish that I had in the fridge. She ended up making me something to eat—sweet deal for me! The rest of the time she graciously ate what was around.
I spent time with her, introduced her to my family and a few people that I hang out with, got to know her better on a face-to-face level, and relaxed about the state of my house. To me the best compliment as a host occurred when I saw her truly making herself at home, so it made my day when she took the time to tell me that she felt very comfortable at my place—it’s what any host would want to hear!
What’s the best thing that someone has done to make you feel at home?