Thursday, May 14, 2009

Having guests/ foreigners over for a meal

I'm still talking about having people over for dinner.  If you haven't been reading regularly, you may want the many hospitality articles are listed: 
Sometimes hospitality stretches us this week.  My husband's job requires him to teach classes to foreigners.  Usually they all go out to dinner, and but this time we invited them over for a meal. So, yesterday, we had two German adults in our home for dinner.  One was a female (unmarried about 25) and the other was a male (married, about 38).  They spoke English, but their first language was German.  

If you think we are in the habit of entertaining Germans often, you are wrong.  Even for someone who normally breezes through hospitality adventures, I was a tad unnerved because it is rumored that German woman keep immaculate homes.  I have no idea if this is true, but the word immaculate just is not in my vocabulary, let alone my home!

We have entertained quite a few foreigners over the years, not just Germans.  Off the top of my head, I can list: Australian, Brazilian, Chinese, Taiwanese,  French, Indian, British, Scottish, and German.  

So, here are the BASICS of having foreigners over.  

Our experience has been that the foreigners are extremely well-mannered, gracious, and absolutely delightful.  They are NOT as scary as you might think.  I would highly encourage anyone to have foreigners over for a meal, if they ever get the chance.

1) FOOD: My basic rule of thumb is this: DO NOT try to imitate their style of cooking.  They will be gracious and generally "MUCK it on down", but this is not in good style.  Try to serve a meal that your family likes that is not offensive to their palate.  

RICE: Most Asians and Latinos not only want but NEED rice at every meal.  It sounds insane to us, but they feel like they haven't eaten if they do not get rice.  The best thing to do is let them cook it.  Ask where to buy the rice and what brand and whatever, and let them cook it.  We just can not do it like they do.  

SPICES: People from India really like spicy food.  They will just feel like they can hardly get this bland food down without spices, so I like to have HOT sauce on the table.  It always gets used.  

COFFEE: Europeans (and Americans) love coffee.  Learn how to make a good, strong coffee.  Buy a coffee maker for guests, even if you do not drink it.  

UTENSILS: Most people who travel to the U.S. are capable of using forks, knives, spoons and regular utensils, but they may be encouraged to use chopsticks (or their hands, India) or use the utensils in a different way.  In the U.S. we use a different style of eating; whereas, the Europeans use a continental style.   Actually, I've known many Americans who have adopted the continental style also, but generally is distinctly European.  

TEA:  Brits and other U.K. residents, as well as New Zealanders and Australians love tea.  If you could learn to make a decent pot of tea (with the tea leaves, not the bags) this would make them feel very special.  Also, offer the milk and sugar before the tea, so they can put it in first.  

FOOD AVERSIONS: Just like we do not find chicken bones in the soup very appetizing, other cultures have other quirks of things they would call offensive.  This would be an impossibly long post to write if I tried to include it here, so let's just assume that unless you are familiar with the culture, you should do some research.

2) CONVERSATION:  Conversing with foreigners is often a lot more work.  But it is a good thing to take the risk, since there's so many wonderful things to learn.

SPEAK SLOWLY/ DO NOT USE SLANG: English is a hard language to learn, so we have to use standard expressions and very BLAND language in order to communicate effectively with them.  And if you are from the north like me, slow speaking is just not something I do.  When you get that blank stare (like I frequently do in these situations), remember that they are working really hard to listen, and we need to slow it down. 

Prior-knowledge:  You really should do some research on the country they are from in order to ask intelligent questions about it.  People are honored when you know anything about their country, and it is so fun to learn things!!  (If you do not have any time to research, I will list my fall back conversation starters !)

Also, it is very common for them to respond graciously by asking you some questions about your area.  Do you know enough about your area to answer intelligently?  Unless you are a third grade teacher, you may need to refresh your memory on your local area.  

My fallback questions:

1. So, what have you had time to do while you have been in the states?  

2.  How do the prices compare here?  Have you been shopping?

3. What are some of the items that you were able to find  that you could not find in (Germany?)

4. What is your home city/ village known for?  

5.  If I were to visit (Germany), what is one thing that I would really want to see?  

And things they may ask you about your city?

1. So, how old is (Rockford)?  

2. What is the primary industry here?

3. What sorts of things do people do for fun?  

4. How does it compare with living in (Chicago)?  

5. What is the average snowfall?  How many days of winter?  

Well, I hope that will get you started in the delightful experience of having people from another country over for a meal! 


Ruby said...

Everyday Aussies should be easily pleased and VERY good company! And since we have a lot of slang of our own, can probably mix it with you there.
My international visitors have been limited but I have a German chef for a brother in law - daunting!!!

annies home said...

great post very interesting information not had much opportunity to entertain foreigners but if I ever do you provided great tips

Kathryn said...

Your comment on not using slang reminded me of a story, but slightly different circumstances.

Many years ago i was "host mother" to several different Japanese girls (one at a time) for a month each. They came to study English for the month & experience our culture.

Because many of the host mothers worked, the students would pair off, & i took 2 of the girls shopping one day at the mall.

The girls were trying on size 2 & size 0 clothes. At one point the clerk turned to me & said, "Green, huh?"

The girl with me waiting for the other trying on clothes wanted to understand this, so i explained "green with envy," & "green eyed dragon" jealousy.

She was delighted with this & several times during her stay said to me, "Green, huh?"

Of the 4 students i had, 2 wanted only American food, but 2 missed their own food so much we took them to Japanese restaurants a couple of times.

Jena Webber said...


Oh, I'd love to have you and any of your friends over for tea!!


I love your story of the Japanese students. It is really fun for them to use our slang once they get the hang of it. I love hearing the Asian accent say something "very American"--funny! My kids take violin from a Chinese man who says the craziest things. I think you hit it right when you suggested just doing what they want, especially if they are long-term guests. What a neat experience that must have been!

m said...

Living in a university town, we've actually gotten lots of practice with foreigners. I always like to ask them about what things have surprised them about being in the states and what things they were expecting that turned out to be true.

Mrs. Parunak said...

Um, yeah, so that "m" was actually the first letter in "Mrs. Parunak." Ooops.