Hospitality vs Entertaining, Q & A

Q. If you set the table with pretty china and a centerpiece, are you making your guests feel inferior in their abilities when all you are trying to do is make them feel extra-special and worthy of attention?

Should we reduce all attempts at beauty to a common level so as not to offend a guest?

I know the key is in the hostess’ manner, but how can you really tell how you are perceived?

Reply

It can be tricky, especially in these days of the lowest common denominator. And it might take time- a person who is uncomfortable at a first visit may need several invites before she feels relaxed and realizes you’re not just showing off.

There is no system, no failsafe method. There is only a principle that we care more about the people than about our stuff, our schedules, or our organization. Beyond that, we work on a case by case basis at making others feel comfortable and cared for while living within our means. That may mean serving sandwiches on paper plates to one family and lasagna on china for another.

Here are some other thoughts I have:
One disgruntled, awkward guest is not a trend. However, if you know that a guest is not comfortable with china, then it is not really making them feel extra special and worthy of attention to use it anyway. If you don’t know that and find out later there is no reason to feel guilty about it.

In general, if pretty much everybody you know is uncomfortable asking you for help spontaneously, without scheduling it- you might have a problem.
In general, if the majority of your guests seem tense, edgy, and uncomfortable, you might need to work on something.

In general, if NOBODY ever tells you they feel comfortable or at home in your house, then maybe what you’ve been doing is entertaining and not hospitality.

We don’t need to feel responsible for making everybody feel comfortable exactly where they are because people have to own their own feelings at some point and also- because most of us should not be complacent about exactly where they are. We just need not to be so focused on our own perfections, superiorities, and high standards that we make others feel they can *never* hope to do better.

If people feel like we would never invite them back if their child accidentally broke a plate, then they might be insecure. Or we might be confused in our priorities.

I am talking about trends, not each and every person who comes into our homes. And there are some house-guests who are just rude- we aren’t responsible for them or their reactions. I do not feel at all responsible, for instance, for the family who stayed with us for several days, had a rude and uncooperative child who refused to help when asked and constantly disappeared to let others do her work, the family also flushed paper towels down our toilet, backing up our septic system so I had to clean raw sewage out of my bathtub- and then accused me of being ‘unkind’ and ‘inhospitable’ because I asked them to please not do that, but to come and ask me for the toilet paper if they ran out again, and they consequently left in a huff and remain angry with me to this day because I will not ‘confess’ that I was rude to ask them to stop putting paper towels down my toilet or ‘unkind’ to ask their 13 year old daughter to pitch in when it was her turn to do the dishes.

There are some people it is impossible not to offend.

So- *in general,* you want to check your motives and be certain that you do care more for people than for your perfect schedule or ‘bonus points’ for setting a perfect table.

Does that make sense?

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