Recently, I had an awkward experience at a birthday party I was invited to. In fact, I was completely ignored by members of the household and overheard some unwholesome remarks about the guest of honor.
Was this casual behavior or downright rude?
Now, having a foreign exchange student, Jana, living with us this year has opened my eyes to a lot of American culture, some good and some not so good.
The way we treat friends and family, for instance. What I witnessed at that party was uncomfortable, to say the least!
I would never want to do that to a guest in my own home. Nor let my son ignore people who come through our doors.
But the incident got me to thinking: is this standard American behavior? Are we just being casual or are we being incredibly impolite, taking people for granted?
Perhaps my family is extraordinary. It’s hard to know. I just know that in my big extended family, visitors are treated hospitably. In fact, we have adopted many “strangers” into our fold over the years!
Before Jana came to stay with us, she was told that Americans are cold in nature. We all want our own space and do not develop relationships easily.
Now my family is nothing like this. Jana laughed with appreciation when I told her the story about all the kids sprawled out in every corner of my parents’ house for their 50th Anniversary party. Nobody even THOUGHT of staying at a hotel, and we had 30 plus kids and adults in the house!
In contrast, my husband’s family always stays at a hotel when they come to visit because they want their own space.
Not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but I am just wondering about how we as Americans treat our friends and family. Do we ignore them in the name of “casual living”?
Accordingly, here’s some ideas to help us overcome this tendency and to honor the people in our lives:
1) Greet your friend or family member when they enter your home. Near the door is definitely a good idea, especially for first-time visitors. Many times, I greet my guests as they come up the driveway, mainly to shew off the dogs, but also to make sure they know where to come since our front door is upstairs.
Jana just came home in the midst of working on this newsletter, and I jumped up to turn on the lights and greeted her. Gestures like these make a person feel welcome and wanted. She laughed in a pleased way and said, “Did you miss me?”
As I write this, I realize how easy it is to take my husband for granted when he comes home. That is something for me to work on! How much more appreciated he would feel if I took the time to greet him when he comes home from the office!
2) When guests come over, have your children introduce themselves. I am extremely impressed with the foreign exchange students’ ability to do this. They are trained from an early age to introduce themselves to elders, shaking hands firmly.
My son is painfully shy, so I often have to help him do this. But still we make the effort. He will get better at it with practice!
3) Turn off televisions, talk radio, distracting computer games, etc. Show that you value your guests by being completely available to them, at least for the first moments of their stay in your home.
4) Don’t hover around a guest, making them feel uncomfortable by asking if they need anything every two minutes. My rule is, “the first night you’re a guest, the second day you’re part of the family!” Accordingly, I serve a guest the first time they are in my home, but after that I point to a cupboard and say, “help yourself!” This sets them at their ease and makes them feel truly part of the family.
5) If you invite a friend or family member into your home, especially for extended stays, don’t make them feel unwanted by sending them mixed messages. I remember once long ago I went to visit a friend in England. She was really tired of having visitors but didn’t want to tell me so, thinking this would be impolite. But as it turned out, I felt so unwelcome that I didn’t even want to be in her home! It would have been better for both of us if she had told me no in the first place so I could have made other arrangements and she could have been a lot more rested!
In other words, if you invite guests in your home, act happy to see them, even if you have mixed feelings about it. You said yes, so make the most of it. Otherwise, if you need to say no, it is best to do so upfront.
6) When they leave, walk them to the door or car. Stay until you see them drive away. I think this gesture makes people feel more wanted. If it is dark, turn on the lights. I once fell off a step upon leaving a friend’s house because it was dark, and I was holding my baby! It was a horrifying experience and I hurt myself terribly! You don’t want this to happen to your friends and family! Take care of them by providing adequate lighting!
7) Don’t just relegate friends and family to “last on your list.” I know we’re all incredibly busy, but relationships are important.
Having Jana and her friends around has made my life even more busy and my projects have not been getting done as fast. But then it hit me as I was talking to Jana and one of her best friends: I could have missed out on the opportunity of having these wonderful kids here because I felt like I had too much to do and then I would have had ample time to get my projects done. But I would have been miserable! I would have been deeply depressed because of all the hardships that we have been going through–foreclosure of our rental property, uncertainty with my husband’s job, and now facing bankruptcy.
But instead of dwelling on these stresses, I chose to bless another person by inviting her into our family. And we have had a lot of fun doing so! It’s been sheer joy to show Jana and her friends things like the Air Force Academy football game or take a teenage daughter shopping or go to a dance class with her. These activities, because of the dear people I’ve shared them with, have made me a much happier person than I otherwise would have been.
My projects will get done eventually, but I will not always have Jana here. Same with my child. I try to enjoy every moment I have with him. Only a few more years and he will be an adult! Time flies and before I know it, he will be gone!
It’s the same with all of our relationships. We never know how much time we have with a person.
Like those who boarded the planes on 9/11/2001 or went to work that day in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. It was just a normal day. But in an instant everything changed. Indeed, the whole country changed! Family members who lost loved ones would have done anything to get that last moment back, when they could have said goodbye. A last hug and “I love you!”
Jana and I have many interesting conversations, especially about American culture’s tendency toward workaholism. We work and work and don’t enjoy life TODAY! We don’t enjoy the people God has given to us. These people are gifts, a treasure.
Treat that person in your life now like a treasure and you will find great reward. You will indeed reach new heights in your relationships!