From "Have a Seat", to, "Help Yourself"; What is the right way to host?

One of the best hostesses I know in the world is my mom. When you come through that door, she has already sat you down, ensured you were comfortable, filled that water glass, juice glass and spirits glass, killed that chicken in the backyard, plucked it, quartered it and tossed it in the skillet, patiently fished that shrimp from the hand-made shrimp tank she keeps in the kitchen, deveined it, and sautéed it, served you both, given you a napkin, rushed off to put on a little lipstick, grabbed a little drink of her own, and then sat down, quoted a new teaching from the Dalai Lama she’d like to share, asked you how you were, and then made sure you weren’t over doing yourself in your daily life. Ok, well maybe the part about the chicken and the shrimp is a stretch, but the point is that my mom makes a guest (me included, since I do not live at home any longer, and so the first couple hours I am treated as a guest) feel as though they can have anything they want, and that she’ll be there to get it for you when you ask—actually she doesn’t even wait for you to ask, she presents everything pre-emptively. In this way, she makes people feel comfortable and truly taken care of. I know that she also really enjoys taking care of people in this way, and I do like to boast that I’ve inherited this little gift of hers.

And so this is how I grew up. In fact, this was how most of my friends’ moms were as well. I remember once when my sister had a whole group of friends over at our house to study for a huge engineering exam (I still wonder how they learned anything when there was so many of them studying together… very cult like.. I’m still suspicious of those engineers..). While they were studying, my mom whipped up this ginormous huge fruit tart in two minutes flat to serve to all 98 of them. They were at our house, and so she had to offer something and fruit tart it was on that fateful engineering study night.

I remember visiting my now mother in law at her home for the first time. She, like my mother, intrinsically communicated that everything she had was for my taking. But, different from my own mom, I could just help myself.

Pardon me?

At first, I was extremely shy to open her fridge. I mean her fridge!  I mean, even if I hadn’t eaten in three days, I don’t think I would have opened up my mother in law’s fridge to make a one layer sandwich. (A one layer sandwich is one deli item between two slices of bread, the most simple form of a sandwich, for example cheese and bread, or just salami and bread. No extra nothing. Bare bones. No zing. No zang. Nada. Nista.). What if I took the salami that she was saving to cut up for company? What if I cut up those mushrooms that she was going to use to make pizza for the family that night? What if I squeezed the last of the mustard? Too many risks to take, too dangerous. I opted for water. It never ran out and everyone had it. I wavered over to the cabinet that held her cups, as if I was hoping I wouldn’t open that too-secret of a cupboard that is forbidden to strangers, and sauntered over to the sink to fill my cup with water. I hoped I grabbed the right cup, I thought. I didn’t even taste my water; I just gulped it as I sat down.

I didn’t know how to help myself and be comfortable with it! When I think of it, how lovely of an invitation though! “Mine is yours for the taking, take anything you want to suit yourself and its ok! I ain’t gonna ask or look twice girl, just do as you please to please yourself!” That’s not what she really said, but looking back that’s what I see she would have said.

So which is the way to be?

Which is the right style?

For the first approach, you may better be accommodating a nervous guest who may be too shy to ask for what it is they really want, and for the second approach, you may help others to relax when they know that everything is for their taking, and they can make themselves a little home in your kitchen. Whichever style or combination of either you choose to embody as a host, the important thing is that you take care of your guests, while feeling comfortable in your ability to do so. If you are not comfortable, you will be tense, and this is not a good feeling to pass along to your guests. So, if you’re one step away from owning a shrimp tank in your kitchen, say heck yes while you raise that fishing pole and own it! And, if you’re one step away from having people in your kitchen using the last of whatever and you just don’t care, raise that empty mustard bottle and say heck yes and own that too—and then put it on your grocery list.

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