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Tips for Sharing a Meal

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

It is likely we have all had cultural blunders and have all been in situations where we weren’t quite sure how to act or react. The internet is filled with excellent articles about hosting internationals and cultural nuances in hospitality. Here are a few I've picked up on from research and experiences of living and traveling abroad for over eight years.

1) Keep inviting if student says, “No” the first time or two.

Some students are very busy and some cultures would find it forward to accept an invitation too quickly.

2) Ask about dietary restrictions.

Muslims do not eat pork at all (which includes the bacon bits and pepperoni!). If in doubt, serve Halaal/Kosher chicken or a vegetarian dish. People from some countries are sensitive to dairy.

3) Accept a gift graciously.

Often, people from other countries bring a gift when they come to a home. You might consider asking them to bring something to contribute to the meal the next time (since it can feel very uncomfortable for them to enter a home without a gift!). I was proudly handed a live chicken one time in Malawi and opted to seize the moment (see picture).

4) Be ready to listen and to ask questions.

Americans often love to talk. We love to share and to teach. Try to return a story with a question allowing your guests to share about their life or culture. Ask about their experiences. One of my most memorable cross-cultural dinners with friends was one where we all happened to be preacher’s kids. I asked them about being preachers’ kids in their countries. They quickly and laughingly shared many stories about growing up as Preachers’ kids, and it was delightful.

5) While hosting, put your guest as ease by giving clear directions.

“Make yourself at home” may not feel warm and inviting to people of many cultures, particularly the first time. Even if you feel bossy, tell your guests where to put their things, which chair to sit in, and what the agenda will be (ie: chatting, meal, dessert, game). Serve drinks without asking. Put food on their plate and add seconds for them. If this is just too much, explain to them how mealtime goes at your house before eating, noting that it may feel different or strange to them.

6) Put your pet in the other room.

Many countries have different views on pets. Wait until you think your guest will be comfortable with a pet before letting them out.

7) Tell them what you want to be called.

In many countries it would be very disrespectful to call a person by their first name, particularly an elder. Note the cultural difference and tell them how you feel.

8) Help and offer suggestions in a restaurant.

Menus can overwhelm anyone! (Bonus points if you pick a restaurant from their country so they can be the experts!)

9) Pay if you are eating in a restaurant.

Make it clear ahead of time that you will be paying or if you expect them to pay, let them know.

10) Be ready to laugh, learn and teach.

Topics that are taboo in America might not be in other cultures and vise versa. I was asked once if I took nicotine in my tea. We still laugh, and she meant caffeine.

11) Be gracious and forgiving of yourself and your guest.

Part of what makes cross-cultural relationships so special is learning to appreciate another way of life. I have learned to receive an abundant meal graciously when I visit my good friend from Pakistan at 3 in the afternoon, and she knows I would never do the same when she is at my house. She also knows that my son won’t touch any food with an ounce of spice. I am honored that she calls me a friend, despite my seemingly rude and “make myself at home” ways.

Accepting hospitality

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