The United States attracts numerous individuals of diverse ethnic backgrounds from around the world for tourism, pleasure, business, school and permanent residency. Entertaining international guests can be an intriguing and gratifying experience. Partaking in a meal with a person from across the globe is an experience not to be missed and offers one the opportunity to embrace other cultures. It’s a chance to see the outside world and enhance your cultural global perceptions without leaving the comfort of your home.
The main etiquette rule to follow when entertaining people from different cultural backgrounds is to research your guests’ customs and have a broad understanding of their culture. Researching cultural practices will help ensure that nothing is done to offend your guests. Friends from that same country, the library and the Internet are all beneficial resources to use to broaden your knowledge.
Be mindful of food and beverage restrictions during the preparation and planning stages. Avoid serving dishes that your guests do not eat because of cultural or religious reasons. For instance, pork is mostly forbidden by followers of Judaism and Islam. A vast majority of Buddhists are vegetarians. Mormons do not drink coffee, tea or alcohol. Inquiring about your guests’ preferences is acceptable. Questions as simple as, “Do you have any dietary restrictions, dislikes or preferences that I should be aware of?” can assist you in making appropriate meal choices.
Another option to consider while planning your meal is to incorporate a side dish or beverage from your guests’ country of origin. Rice is a universal dish enjoyed by many and tea or wine after dinner would be welcomed by most. You can invite friends making repeated visits to prepare one of their authentic dishes or give you the recipe to try. How nice it would be to add some “spice” to your menu by including jerk chicken with rice and peas and fried plantains while enjoying a meal with your friends from Jamaica.
Most importantly, be a gracious and hospitable host. Sincere warmth and kindness are the best hospitality you can extend to your guests. Make it your top priority to create an environment where your guests feel welcome and comfortable. Convey the same warm behavior you would exhibit when entertaining someone from your own country or culture.
It is not imperative that you completely alter your behavior or prepare the entire meal to coincide with your guests’ cultural preferences. Most visiting guests are probably more interested in learning about your culture, traditions and family. For example, consider if you were visiting Brazil and received a dinner invitation to a friend’s home of Brazilian descent, would you prefer an American meal or some delicious dishes from Brazil?
My preference would be the latter, a Brazilian meal consisting of feijoada and bolinhos de bacalhau. This would afford me the opportunity to experience new foods and learn about the traditions, culture and lifestyles of people from that country. Discussions relating to cultural differences and similarities can inspire an interesting table conversation. What a valuable learning experience.
Tina Hayes is an etiquette expert and the author of “Getting ahead with Etiquette,” available at www.etiquetteschool.us