Hospitality seems to get the same rap as the Golden Rule: “What’s the big deal, you just be nice to people.” And, if measured in terms of services, can be performed better by an impersonal hotel, which has brokered deals for better TV, better coffee, and a better air conditioning.
Yet, as I’ve been traveling through the Maritime provinces of Canada with my husband we’ve stayed at several campgrounds, and two WWOOF hosts getting a more intimate picture of hospitality. WWOOFing stands for “Willing Workers on Organic Farms” and the deal is: For 5 to 6 hours of work per day, you stay at an organic farm with a host for an agreed upon duration with free room and board. The farms aren’t conventional pastoral scenes envisioned by us urbanites, but range from CSA farms, to bakeries, vineyards, or (as our next destination) an artisanal tofu shop.
Here’s where Hospitality comes into play. Every one of these hosts has agreed to open their home to strangers, in exchange for some work that is of nearly equal value. The host has already agreed to the premise of hospitality, but what they do beyond clean sheets separates gratitude from grudge. This is where I truly discovered that there is more to hospitality even than extra rooms in a home, lovingly prepared food, meals eaten as a group, and badminton groups available for joining.
Our first hosts knew how many siblings we each had (and their occupations) by the end of the third day, they suggested locations to visit around their area and tailored those suggestions to the type of people we readily present ourselves to be (bibliophile metropolitan hipsters with coffee cravings). Upon hearing our religious affiliation they put their own disavowal of organized religion behind them, and accepted that we had made intentional choices regarding beliefs.
Our second hosts couldn’t have told you what city we lived near or the type of movies we liked watching. They could tell you how three people own the entire American political machine, how evil precludes the existence of God, and cities are places where the Hell’s Angels roam militantly about seeking whom they might devour. They weren’t prepared to allow us a single statement either in confirmation or denial of any of these things. They lectured continually.
Between these two hosts, we noticed that the first had a doorway of transparency, and the second an obdurate wall of opinion. The first respected us as people who had come to crossroad and made different decisions based on reason, the second couldn’t believe that we perceived tofu as a remotely appetizing. (“If I want to eat bean protein, I’ll just eat beans. Besides, Bison meat is the best source of protein and fat you can eat.” – Yes, that is a REAL quote) The first were ready to inconvenience themselves, even mentally for us, the second unable to see beyond their own limited provincial experiences.
Hospitality, which is so much more than even this topsoil level scratching, has become a thing I want to examine more closely. What more is there beyond the material comfort, the respect and transparency? What can I find out, and how then can I embody it?