I’m thrilled to introduce you to my new friend, Julie, who I met through Instagram. We have very similar hearts for fostering fellowship and community, opening our homes in the spirit of hospitality, and are even both graphic designers. You can imagine how our first cross-continent Skype call went! When I asked if she’d like to share her story and insights on cross-cultural hospitality she kindly accepted. Since I’m a small-town girl, living in a 98% homogenous community, I’m very thankful for her words and wisdom.
In my interview with Julie below you’ll learn about cross-cultural hospitality in the following ways:
- what it is and why it’s so important
- several ways a newbie can begin offering hospitality to people from other cultures
- what’s challenging about it
- what’s surprising and encouraging about it
Let’s dive in!
My name is Julie and I blog at The Serviette. I’m a Christian, a wife, and a lover of words and images. The culture I most identify with is Canadian culture (my parents’ home culture), but I’m quite a mix of cultures because I lived on four different continents before the age of 30.
My American husband and I still live abroad, in Germany. We’re learning about hosting people of other cultures, and have been encouraged by what we see happening in those cross-cultural relationships. I started The Serviette not because I’m a cross-cultural hospitality expert, but because I want to create a sort of online reference manual for people wanting to open their doors to people who are culturally different than them.
The first picture that comes to mind when one thinks of cross-cultural hospitality is probably something like an American family hosting an Iranian family for a meal, or a German family keeping Syrian refugees in their home. But when a Canadian Christian welcomes a Canadian atheist neighbour into his or her friend circle, that could also be called cross-cultural hospitality. They might have the same ethnic background, but they have very different values and worldviews.
Also, while we usually think of hospitality as opening our homes and sharing meals, a hospitable spirit can also be shown in other ways, like remembering the (difficult) name of the new Asian employee at work, taking baked goods to your coworker on his birthday, or writing a card to someone who is going through a difficult season.
Cross-cultural hospitality could be defined as extending welcome to someone with whom you might not have a lot in common, especially to someone of a different race or religion.
Cross-cultural hospitality is close to God’s heart — bringing the far away near and making them His friends is God’s speciality (Eph. 2:13, Rom. 5:10). Christians are taught to imitate God by opening their homes to strangers (Heb 13:1).
Even from a human perspective, we can see the good it does: it opens our eyes to other cultures’ traditions and perspectives on life. Just having one Buddhist or Muslim friend can give you a whole new perspective on life. Cross-cultural hospitality gets us out of our comfort zones!
- Do start with something simple. Invite someone over for tea and a snack on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or just invite a neighbor to go on a walk with you in the neighborhood.
- Do ask the person if they have any allergies or food restrictions before they come over for something to eat. As a general rule, Muslims cannot have alcohol or pork, and Hindus won’t eat beef, but many be completely vegetarian or also not drink alcohol. People vary a lot in their practices, so while you can do some Googling, it’s always good to inquire about food/drink restrictions before they come.
- Do ask lots of questions when your guest is visiting. Most people like to talk about themselves. Do a bit of research about the person’s culture or background before he or she visits. It might help to write down a few questions that might be interesting to ask him or her. If you’ve been to your guest’s country or known someone else from that part of the world, you can build some natural conversational bridges.
- Don’t bring up sensitive subjects immediately or assume which views the person has without asking. Sometimes a person might be coming from a country which has experienced political tension with your country. Or, your guest might be less conservative than others from his or her homeland. For example, you don’t want to make a Muslim woman who does not cover her head feel like she’s a bad Muslim by asking too many questions about head covering on her first visit!
- Don’t be discouraged if you just don’t click with a particular guest — that’s normal even with people of your own culture, and if you keep inviting guests, you’ll find that some are open and have lots in common with you, and some do not. We had a Middle Eastern guest over for cake one Sunday afternoon, and my husband pleasantly asked him if he and his wife were planning to have children. He replied, “No! I hate children.” My husband didn’t really know what to say to that. He kept the conversation going, but we did not have that guest back again because it was a bit hard to keep a conversation going with him.
- Do be prepared to be invited to your guest’s home. If you host someone from a traditional culture, often they will return the favour. People from traditional cultures tend to be much more hospitable than Westerners, although an exception to this might be when your guest is a student or is single and feels he or she doesn’t have a proper home in which to host you.
- Do pray for your guest before, during and after your visit, that he or she would feel loved in your home.
Hospitality can be time-consuming, but cross-cultural hospitality can be even more so, because you need to make extra allowances for differences in eating preferences or interests. Sometimes you need to ask new questions like, “Is there a way I can make this quiche without eggs so that my Jain friend can eat it?” or “Are we OK with letting our Muslim friend unroll his prayer mat in the living room and do his prayers here?”
When you open your home to people with different values or backgrounds, sometimes you get unusual or blunt questions. The vocabulary of your guests might not be G-rated. Your guests might question your beliefs, or smell and look different. Others may not understand why you want to bring people into your home who are different than you; my friend’s mother-in-law didn’t approve of her having people of other religions and cultures near her baby.
It’s good to remind myself of this: Jesus endured challenging circumstances to connect with me, and I can endure challenging circumstances to connect with others.
I’ve been surprised at…
1) …how even small gestures of hospitality mean so much to lonely or international guests. Once I invited a single South Asian girl over, and she told me that it was the first time she’d ever really socialized without her family along. A few months ago, an acquaintance and her husband invited a Libyan family over. They found out that the family had lived in the USA for six years and never been invited inside an American’s home! They didn’t know what was culturally appropriate to bring as a gift, so they asked a friend for help. They arrived with so many gifts: a homemade cake, a Libyan specialty dish of potatoes and beef, a European box of chocolates and a handmade crocheted table covering. Stories like this remind me that what seems easy for us, like having someone over for the afternoon, can be really meaningful to our foreign guests!
2) …how well we’ve connected with people who might seem to not have much in common with us. One of our closest friends in our last city was a Muslim friend from the Middle East. He shared his story, wept at our table, and asked us to pray for him. I was surprised how dear he became to us as we shared many meals, conversations and prayers. I think these kind of connections are God-orchestrated, but they happen most naturally when we open our homes to strangers.
3) …how openly we can talk about our faith with people of other faiths in our home. The opportunities are virtually endless to talk about our faith when people are at our table regularly. It comes up naturally, whether we pray before a meal, hang a verse on the wall, share a book from our bookshelf, or just talk about life through a Christian lens.
We have so many sweet memories of cross-cultural gatherings. Last year when two international friends were moving away, we hosted a farewell party for them. Our tiny apartment was packed with people, many of whom we had never met. I was busy the whole night, bumping past people, heating food, boiling water for tea, and setting out desserts. I couldn’t sit and chat for long with anyone, but around the room I heard people of different races and different worldviews meeting each other and great conversations happening.
I realized that those conversations might not have happened in any other setting. I was amazed that with a bit of effort, our home could become a place where people from all different nations could be comfortable enough to talk about what really matters in life. Cross-cultural hospitality blesses the guests, but we’ve found over and over that it also blesses the hosts! (Prov 11:25)
Share your heart and thoughts in the comments below and say hello to Julie here too!
I’m so grateful for Julie, her friendship, and the wonderful insights and stories she shared here. Again, if you’d like to learn more about cross-cultural hospitality you can visit her website, The Serviette, or connect with her on Instagram.