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Monday, December 5, 2011

Hospitality Never Goes Out of Style No Matter What Time of Year

Hospitality is not always about trying to host the perfect party. In my quest to learn more about different traditions and views regarding hospitality, I sent some questions to a friend, her friends and my sister. I was happy that the responses did not parrot ideas focused strictly on etiquette for etiquettes sake but were centered on people and their needs.

Jessica Remington ( who hosts play dates in her home said that you should strive to make a person feel welcome in your home even if you never met them before. The first time we met in person outside my home, I made a peculiar request that may make me seem as a hypocrite in writing this post, but Jessica understood my challenges and kindly complied. An important part of the role in hosting is to start conversation to make people feel at ease according to her. I would add that it is important in starting conversations to be mindful of people who have difficulty with small talk and may prefer to listen rather than participate. Elaborating on her thoughts on hospitality, she expressed, “I think hospitality is not just about being kind in your home, though I did focus on that. I think hospitality is in all parts of your life, whether you are helping someone feel like they are a part of a group and BELONG or whether you are hosting a party for 100. It's all about helping others feel special, just as you yourself have the confidence to know you are!”

Candace Wood who puts hospitality into practice also feels that consideration for guests and hostesses and their comfort is the key to entertaining. “Cooking comfort foods, serving fun beverages, playing fun music, making sure there is laughter, having warm blankets to cuddle up when needed, and starting interesting conversations,” are some of the suggestions Candace gives for putting others at ease. When visiting others homes, she shows respect by bringing gifts such as flowers or wine, possibly bringing a side dish or dessert, offering to help make beds or with the cleanup. She likes the tradition that her grandma has of giving candles or arrangements to hosts.

Jeni Mari Caillouet is very concerned about making the comfort of her guests a reality upon their departure. She inquires about favorite dishes or food allergies ahead of time. She avoids hot topics that might make a guest uneasy such as religion and politics. If her guests leave “full, fat and happy…but mostly happy” she feels like she has done her job.

Katie E. ( was gracious enough to fill me in on some of the nuances of the art that is Southern hospitality. Having never been to the South other than a quick dash over the Mason Dixon Line in Maryland, I have been curious about what this entails as I heard it referenced by more than one Southern transplant to the Midwest including Jessica. She explained rules of timing a visit to not impose on a host during the dinner time so they didn’t feel obligated to feed you and not out staying your welcome on a visit. If people drop by unexpectedly, you do an inventory of the food on hand that you can feed them. The elderly will insist upon feeding their guests and this is regardless of whether people have just eaten, which may be a custom from the Depression Era when food was rarer. The first ritual of a Southern host is to ask if someone would want to drink coffee, tea, or another beverage. It seems to be very important to also be sure to drink the beverage offered. She adds that while there may be an obsession with this rule the number one rule of Southern Hospitality is to make the guest feel comfortable. In Southern Society, it is important to leave before it is time to bathe children and put them to bed. Many of the customs she outlined were very much like the ones for us reared in the Midwest. Making people feel comfortable really is the key wherever you call home.

Katie E. describes someone we should all try to emulate. The person who is the epitome of southern hospitality for me, is my Aunt T. She is one of those “honorary aunts” southern children acquire as they grow up. She and my mother have been close friends for years, helped each other plan their daughters’ weddings, and baby showers. Anytime you come over you get a hug and a kiss, a cup of coffee and a seat at the table. You are loved on and asked about your day. Kids, jobs, love lives are all discussed, as are most of your relations. Aunt T’s house is where you go if you need to know something. If you need a sympathetic shoulder to lean on, or someone to give you a little bit of a nudge in the right direction, Aunt T’s is where you could get that as well. I really think she must have fed half of the teenagers in the area. She and her husband would cook for an army instead of their family of four, and usually had no leftovers due to the stray teens who would show up for supper. I still enjoy dropping in whenever I am in the area to have myself a cup of coffee and a bit to eat. Her house really is everyone’s home, and that is southern hospitality to me.”

Kids at Becky's B-day party.
My sister, Becky Bohan Brown, shares her ideas on hospitality. Anyone who knows my sister and brother-in-law Brian Brown ( know they both love to entertain. Their La Casa is the place for entertaining friends and family whether: a movie night with girlfriends; poker night with the guys; a stop for pop-we dinner club after an outing and celebrating numerous family birthdays and holiday gatherings. "Most important memories are born from each of these gatherings which we hold dear to our hearts and hope our guests do, too," is the true meaning of hospitality according to my sister and her husband. Becky celebrated a significant birthday this year and decided to entertain big. Our youngest niece, Bridget, woke up one morning and asked her parents, "Is it Aunt Becky's birthday yet?" "Thanks to a dear friend Elizabeth my birthday was epic. We combined our decorations and a Tiki Birthday Party was born." On this occasion, Brian and Becky decided to also surprise guests with a "Walking Taco Bar." Guests came dressed in Hawaiian attire and were presented with a Leigh at the door. Each floor had a different theme. The main floor was strictly Tiki with totem poles and a cutout for picture taking. The basement was decorated with flamingos. "No matter the guest list, what is most important to Brian & I that everyone feels welcome -- especially the little ones." The margarita machine they rented also had cherry flavored slushies for the kids. "For every occasion, we have extra kid-friendly seating in the kitchen and a bedroom that we let all the kids play and run rampant in." The kids room was the site for a Parrot Party with parrots and decorations everywhere this birthday.

As these interviews highlight, I do think that there can be something special of entering in one another’s homes as there is no place that is more of a reflection of you than the space you live. Potentially you can be more down to earth in this setting and feel more intimacy with friends. Making the right setting can involve nice table arrangements, decorations, fancy appetizers but that’s up to you. I don’t think there is a one size fits all. I hope none of these suggestions are set in stone so that we would judge another person if they don’t follow a rule. I think the real key is being thoughtful. I recall visiting homes where the family made a larger feast than they normally enjoyed for themselves or another time when a man informed us of the pound cake that he had made for our visit.

While hospitality does have application in the virtual world, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact and making time to get together. It’s not about wearing red while everyone else is wearing grey. It’s about getting to know people better and letting them know that they matter to you. Entering each other’s homes can bring a friendship to the next level of intimacy.
-population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2011 population-we, LLC 
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  1. Barb: This topic definitely hits close to home. Thanks for letting Brian and I be a part of your art of hospitality post. I also enjoyed what Jessica, Candace, Jeni and Katie had to share as well.

  2. Becky, I thought of you and Brian so much as I wrote this. I also thought constantly of our grandmothers and our mother. I appreciated all the insights so far and hope more will follow!