Crossing Cultures: Welcome

Early on during our time in Peru, I asked a friend about how to reach out to neighbors. I learned that the responsibility would fall to me to befriend the woman of the family, whose task it is to screen newcomers before introducing them to the other members. It has been an interesting process to learn how to host others in our home in ways that communicate hospitality to Peruvians. 

One aspect of being in someone’s home that is very different here is where you venture when you are a guest. In the States, it is not rude to walk down the hall to find the bathroom on your own or wander into the kitchen to chat with the hostess or offer to help. Here, you do not venture one step farther into the house than instructed. I have had to learn to direct visitors to enter the living room, and even tell them to have a seat on the couch before they will do so. Otherwise, they might stand just inside the doorway and wait. I once told a teenage girl to come upstairs when she had finished what she was doing, only to find her waiting for me at the top of the stairs a little while later. She chose to stand there until I told her to come into the room rather than come looking for us. We also must remember to ask before using the restroom, or any other room besides the immediate entrance. 

Another difference is that guests often bring along something to contribute to the meal, whether a soft drink, bread, or dessert. We have even had dinner visitors bring an entire pie! The expectation is that whatever is brought will be included in the meal, for the most part, so we have gotten to try a variety of new flavors, though not many new favorites! However, it was helpful to learn this courtesy so that we would know better how to be gracious invitees as well. 

The part I have yet to grasp fully is how to determine that a visit should be coming to an end, and how to communicate it graciously. Luckily, most of the people with whom we spend time make it easy. On busy days when we have several commitments back-to-back, I still find myself wondering how to kindly inform a visitor that we are out of time. Or if I am in someone else’s home, I am never sure how to know if it is too soon to excuse ourselves to get kids home and in bed or if we should stick around for a while longer, or if we’ve overstayed our welcome. We do the best we can and are thankful for the “gringo factor” that might make Peruvians shake their heads at our odd behavior, but protect them from being truly offended. 

Despite not having this down pat and still climbing this learning curve, hospitality remains one of my favorite parts of ministry. We interact with people from all walks of life, and I love the opportunity to welcome them into our home and provide for their needs while they are here. If they are lonely, they will find company. If they are hungry, we will feed them well. If they are hurting, we will listen. If they are weary, we will serve them and let them take a break. I am so glad that the concept of welcoming an individual is a universal honor.