I have called many states and even a few countries “home” over the years. Every place I’ve lived has proven to have its own unique idea of hospitality, especially when that hospitality is directed toward strangers or mere acquaintances. No people have come close to the boundless generosity of Romanians in the early 1990s, who so freely shared the little they had with us foreigners. I loved my sojourn in New England, an area not known for its warmth; probably the place that’s the hardest to get a handle on is one which is.
On the outside, the land of Dixie is off-the-charts welcoming and congenial. People use the word “hospitable” to refer to this region; it makes Southerners proud. Moving here from San Francisco, where we didn’t know our neighbors even after many years, the friendliness felt like water to our parched souls. Strangers smile on the street and wave from the car. Neighbors knock on our front door (guaranteed to raise suspicions in the Bay Area), sometimes bearing home-baked treats or even carafes of soup when we’re sick. When a funeral procession passes, cars pull over out of respect, a lost courtesy in many parts of our country.
It’s all very nice. And we are more than glad that we chose to make our home in North Carolina. But here’s the confusing part.
While all are welcome onto the front veranda, few get to enter the house. If someone has the audacity to overstep protocol, a genteel hostess helps him “save face” by not mentioning the faux pas to his face (with a kindly “Well bless his heart, his mama didn’t teach him any better” to all her friends.)
Occasionally I’ve been invited inside a house for a planned-for event such as a book club or fellowship group. After days of cleaning, cooking, and arranging, the well-coiffed hostess is sure to be showered with praise for her delicious spread and beautiful home. But is that what true hospitality is supposed to be? Shouldn’t the focus be on the receiver instead of the giver?
Mother Teresa wrote, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”
And how do I get off the veranda and through the front door? Herein lies the mystery. After nearly three years in Dixie, I think I’ve discovered the key.
A secret password is necessary. With the utterance of the proper words, highly guarded and parceled out only to a select number who generally share the same blood line, the door swings open. I don’t know the code.
Next week is Thanksgiving, the holiday of hospitality. To most Americans – not just Southerners, that seems to mean a meal with extended family only. Have we lost the art of reaching out to strangers?
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Heb. 13:2