Lessons in Middle Eastern Hospitality

breakfastMy Lebanese grandparents taught me to play Likha, a card game similar to Hearts, but with more ways to accidentally earn unwanted points, and no means to shoot the moon. They taught me to love Greek-style yogurt and spices with olive oil on pita bread for my breakfast. They taught me what lavish generosity looked like.

They also taught my mother Middle Eastern hospitality, and she helped them pass the model along to me.

I’m never aware that my thoughts are molded by another culture until something startles or offends or baffles me, but it doesn’t seem to trouble those around me.

When I reach that point, I must stop and wonder what lens is shifting my vision. I’ll give a couple examples to show you what I mean:

Potluck Scenario:

  • Response 1: Bring the chips and salsa and Sprite (because it’s cheap and easy and takes no prep time).
  • Response 2: Bring a macaroni casserole.
  • Response 3: Bring an ornate salad with hand-carved carrots, homemade dressing, and fresh-roasted nuts to sprinkle on top.

Somewhere along the way, I was taught that bringing food to an event was a time for showing off my best stuff, for bringing an exciting gift to the community. Having a dish that people complimented was always nice, too.

Somewhere, somehow, I grew to believe in the importance of planning ahead and making the group meal a jubilant festivity of delicious, fresh, food.

(If it’s not obvious, the Middle Eastern option in the scenario above would, in my experience, be Response 3).

Overnight Guest Scenario

  • Response 1: Welcome guest, show them linen closet and hand them a towel.
  • Response 2: Welcome guest, make up guest bed/couch with folded towels at foot of bed.
  • Response 3: Welcome guest, make up guest bed, write welcome note, arrange vase of flowers on bedside table, include basket with granola bars, fruit, and bottle of travel shampoo.

That’s right folks! It’s Response 3, once again, that was the norm in my house!

The spirit behind this level of hospitality is something that makes the recipient feel as if they are royalty come to visit. It requires thoughtfulness. It takes more time. It’s an act of service. (And for the record, I forget all the time to offer people something as simple as even a glass of water when they come to visit my house. I’m not perfect at this!)

But if we are working to practice this Middle Eastern level of hospitality, the difference in the potluck scenario is that your kitchen becomes a fountain that blesses the heart and the stomach of those it touches. If you’re having people over to eat, your dining table becomes a gift basket that people want to encircle. When you have people come to stay with you, your home becomes a haven of beauty and rest.

Everyone has their own things they do or don’t do with regards to hospitality. This isn’t about giving us all one more thing to do, it’s re-thinking how we view the social convention.

You will find the level of hospitality that fits your lifestyle, talents, and artistic taste. I’m sharing what my grandparents’ culture passed along to me. I love the idea of making my guests and friends feel showered with fine things and leaning into a lifestyle of abundance instead of the scooting by on the bare minimum. It’s a way of spreading beauty and joy. It’s an expression of love.

Do you have any lessons in hospitality that you’d like to post here?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. One summer in college I was working on the opposite side of the country, the business I worked for said to ask around the people you meet to see if they knew someone with a room to let for cheap. I asked a family whose home country I still have no idea about, but they invited me to their home and the guest bed and would not accept payment. I stayed a week I think before finding a place, but I’ll never forget the automatic response that they would take care of a stranger. I felt taken care of by people who weren’t my family. An amazing experience.

    1. Yes! That’s exactly it! Such generosity and courage to love in a way that’s not at all the norm in the culture here. What an act of kindness and grace! And it stuck with you, didn’t it? Now I’m totally curious where they were from!

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