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“You are welcome here.”

By Leslie Graff

Three weeks ago I stepped off the plane in Amman, Jordan. “Welcome,” the immigration officer nodded as he snapped my picture and passed me back my freshly stamped passport.

If there was any one word I would come to hear a thousand times in 10 days it was welcome. In fact, it is the word I think of first when I think of Jordan. I guess I remember it because other than being printed on doormats or hotel signs, welcome isn’t really a word we use much other than in the context of “You’re welcome, ” our semi-conscious auto-pilot response to “Thank you.”

While it was certainly explicit in conversations, it was also so apparent in people’s actions.  It was everywhere, from the father and grandfather who offered to share tea with me during their child’s surgery,  or the mother who brought gifts of prayer beads and the Koran as thanks for our help. It was the little girl who slipped her ring onto my finger while we played in the playroom, and the many compliments and “mashallah”s of  of the mothers as they saw the pictures of my own children as we talked before their children’s surgeries. It was the in the “What can I do to help you?” and “Anything else you need?” I heard from dozens of volunteers each day.  It was even evident in the waiter who brought me an extra half a kilo of ice cream (in addition to the 1 kilo I ordered—which was already an outrageous amount) just to be hospitable. Not to mention, the invitations for dinner from parents or the medical students who treated us to dinner and gave us a tour of Amman. The spirit of welcomeness seemed to saturate the week and a half; it also permeated our communal meals of endless courses and generous portions.

I think what makes the lesson even more interesting is that I knew these people could have looked at me—a tall, blond, American—and made lots of assumptions about me based on the atrocious and trashy examples of American women in Western media.  Or judged me based on my appearance or evident religious differences. While quite modest by American standards, I would not be considered as modest by middle-Eastern standards, and I don’t wear a headscarf. Even women fully veiled did not treat me with any hint of disapproval. If they had any preconceptions or  judgments about me there was no evidence of this. Instead, I was only greeted with many smiles, compliments, and gestures of kindness.

Every place I travel I look for lessons, to let myself be changed by the experience. I certainly learned something in Jordan. In an ever cynical and sarcastic world, it was refreshing to be somewhere more genuine. To embrace this concept of hospitality, something that is not such a big part of our culture. We tend to be reserved, we often just expect everyone to conform to our casualness, and we don’t often go out of our way to be welcoming, especially when people are different or unfamiliar.

Ten days later, as I presented my passport upon exit, a different man smiled back and most sincerely said, “You are always welcome in Jordan.” I stepped back on a plane to New York with the taste of  fresh lemon(ade) with mint still in my mouth and the spirit of welcomeness in my heart.

Is American hospitality dead?  What have you learned from the hospitality of others? What meaningful experiences with hospitality have you had? How do you create a culture of hospitality in your home?

About Leslie Graff

(Art Director) In her pre-diapering days, Leslie earned an MS in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU. This entitled her to mold the minds of impressionable college students in rambling six-hour lecture courses and travel the world as child life specialist. She now passes the seasons in a quaint Massachusetts town with her husband, Allen, and three young sons. She spends her days encouraging play, championing global causes, and whipping up a mean R2D2 cake. She savors her nights, stealing away to her studio to paint.

24 thoughts on ““You are welcome here.””

  1. Nice. My experience with Muslims generally is that they have no expectation that non-Muslims should abide by their standards. They know that their mores are not ours and do not judge us for not living their religion. It is something we Mormons could follow their examples in, IMO.

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  2. I remember sensing a very evident feeling of a lack of hospitality in my own home–with my own family members, even. I've wanted my home and my personality to be more welcoming. Sometimes I think we let our insecurities act as barriers or excuses to prevent us from really opening our doors and windows (in the literal and figurative sense) and extending that genuine welcome.

    Great thoughts–I love that you went to Jordan!

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  3. ESO- I have learned so much from my experiences with Muslim friends and in the many predominantly Muslim countries I have visited.

    Jenny- I do feel inhospitable at times. I wonder too how much comes from our lack of cultural modelling as well- we don't know how to be comfortable being very hospitable?

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  4. Four years ago we moved from Colorado to Eastern Pennsylvania. We experienced culture shock as we adjusted to the less than welcoming East coast attitude and Pennsylvania Dutch reserve. Two years later we made a family trip to North Carolina, it was so wonderfully friendly! The waitress didn't scowl at our 4 kids instead she smiled and cooed over the baby and brought extra napkins without a request. Southern hospitality is alive and well and I'd love more of it.

    That said, I'm sorry to say that I've picked up on some of the less than welcoming attitudes I'm surrounded by. For the first year or so after moving to PA I tried to smile and say "Thank-you" and "Hi!" but after getting so many blank stares or grimaces I've scaled back. It is very difficult to continue reaching out in hospitality and friendship when your hand gets smacked. That applies to inviting people over for dinner too.

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  5. Americans are too concerned with what others are doing for us to be bothered with what we can do for others. We've come a long way since Kennedy's, "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" speech.

    I wonder why we don't push that mantra much these days?

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  6. I think for most people hospitality has been forgotten. How many of us are too worried about ourselves and our families to notice anyone else? Thank you for the reminder, I think hospitality definitely needs to be taken out of the corner of forgotten, dusted off, and invited to join my family again.
    And perhaps its a matter of not giving up, when our welcome attitude is met with indifference. Most people aren't used to genuine welcomeness. So how would they know how to react.

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  7. I don't think American hospitality is dead, but it's different from Jordanian hospitality. Personally, as an introvert I get a little overwhelmed sometimes in some countries with the concern for my well-being. Even though I feel welcome and accepted, I don't often need the attention. But I appreciate it because I know it's important

    I know my own home is less open than some might prefer, but like I said, I'm an introvert. I try to make people feel welcome when they are in my home, but I rarely invite people over.

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  8. Love this Leslie.

    When my life is more rushed (and isn't that the epitome of being American? to be rushed?) I am much less hospitable. I often need a reminder to slow down and be welcoming.

    My dad is the ultimate host; I'd like to be more like him.

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  9. Our society has pulled away from what has traditionally been plain old-fashioned good manners and politeness. This is evident in the way we pass each other on the street and look the other way, or how young people have dropped the Mr. and Mrs. and refer to adults by their first names, or even the prevalent use of foul language any old time ya want to use it. Using our manners in the presence of another is a manifestation that we care about them. Saying hello and smiling, saying thank you, opening a door or whatever it is shows that we are concerned enough to do our best.

    I know hospitality is not completely gone. My dad was raised in the south, and when he returns home it always amazes me how many times he says hello to those walking by. Of course my dad is from a different generation, but I noticed that the gestures were always returned.

    When I studied the Spanish language and culture, I learned that it was impolite to greet someone and ask your question without first asking how they were doing…and then listening to their answer. I've never forgotten learning that and am always cognizant of how fast we do the hi-how-are-you-fine-thank-you-and-you? greeting.

    I'm getting a little rambly, but I must add that one thing I love about the culture in the church is that we teach manners. I may get blasted for this (please don't shoot me if you disagree), but I like that our young people use the terms brother and sister when addressing adults. I love that we have etiquette nights for our youth and teach our young men to open doors for others. We teach service in an environment where the media is sending the message that it's all about personal gratification. Did anyone notice how long the show lasted that was about the millionaires who went out and wore someone else's shoes for a week so that they could find someone worthy to give some of their money to? I was so impressed to see the feelings of compassion and empathy that were shared on that show. And then to see the service rendered as different millionaires helped those in need. I think it ran about 5 to 7 episodes while, on the other hand, some reality t.v. shows are in their umpteenth season.

    Bring back the hospitality, the service, the good old-fashioned manners. That's all I'm sayin'. 😀

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  10. I don't think it is dead in America, but it is certainly in need of life support in some areas. I really enjoy being places where I truly feel welcome. And I try to make our home a place where people feel at home. But I know I could do more.

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  11. A couple of people have mentioned it, but come south. There is still a lot of hospitality here. Someone held a door open for me the last time I was out. Children don't dream of calling an adult by their first name – unless they aren't from here. If mr. or mrs. is too formal, they use miss and the woman's first name. Like my friend is Miss Jennifer to my children. Nobody passes on the street without saying, "Hello." In fact, you wave at someone driving through your neighborhood. (Does everyone wave at folks in cars? We do here. Mostly just when you pass someone you know, but sometimes even if you don't know them. And, I've had friends reprimand me for not recognizing them in their new car and not waving.)

    And, if you are new in town, everyone will invite you to their church.

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  12. I do miss southern hospitality (as a former southerner) When I taught school in a rural part of Virginia I loved that we'd all go out and wave to the buses every afternoon and all these kids would hug you as they filed past- it was their form of greeting.

    Oh yes our incessant hurrying… it can be such a hospitality killer

    I would love to see more emphasis on manners, politeness, friendliness.

    I don't think welcomeness has to violate people's comfort levels on a scale of introversion or extroversion but I think the hallmark of true hospitality is always making someone feel comfortable

    Kevin- I was on a medical mission with Operation Smile (providing cleft lip and palate surgeries. I love doing them- it's like pushing the reset button on your perspective, it always adds a healthy dose of disequilibrium to my life and helps me refocus.

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  13. We live in a small English village. I walk through the streets every day, doing the school run etc and would never pass someone without saying hello, it would be considered rude to ignore them. That is our local community. However, if I go into town which is just a 15 minute drive away then I would only speak to those I knew.

    Basic manners such as please and thank yous should never even be needed to be commented on. Really, I still expect them from everyone.

    I am not sure how hospitable I am though. We invite friends over regularly but honestly it stresses me out. I feel I have to clean to perfection and cook wonderful food to impress, yet people just want friendship and fun. True, close friends I am fine with, it is the rest of the world that I feel is out to judge me as imperfect. I would probably be more welcoming to others if I relaxed more. I wonder too if others can sense my stress and worry .

    I can do manners, kindness, helping others, just not so good with entertaining.

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  14. I have a sister-in-law that is unusually good at making everyone feel welcome and special. She lives just 15 min away here in the Salt Lake Valley, but everytime I go she is SO glad to see me and ready to make me feel at home. Both of my sisters and I recognize this as something we don't naturally excel at and are trying to be more like her!

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  15. Let's not confuse manners with hospitality. I lived in MN for three years and I would describe Minnesotans as polite and well-mannered but severly lacking in hospitality. Minnesota n-ice is very real. I also find my fellow Mormons to be equally polite and well-mannered and equally lacking in hospitality. In my current ward (located in the American South but populated almost entirely by transplants from UT, ID, and CA) over the last two years we've had more than half the families in the ward over to our home for a meal and/or FHE without a single reciprocal invitation. Meanwhile we've had to decline many requests from coworkers and non-Mormon neighbors. When I brought this subject up with our bishop (during a meal at my home) he made the excuse, quite matter-of-factly, that most families are too busy to bother with such niceties. That response just floored me and my wife. We've always made it a priority to open our home to others and try to foster a sense of community for our family, neighborhood, and ward.

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  16. I grew up in a very hospitable and welcoming home near BYU-Hawaii. We constantly had friends and acquaintances dropping by to say hello. Many times, students who were far from home would ask if they could please come for dinner or to hang out or even to cook for us. People going to and from the temple would stop in to say hello. When I went away to school, I'd often meet people who said they'd been to my mom's house and loved it. To this day, we jokingly call it Grand Central Station.

    A few things stand out to me in making our home hospitable. Several told us they felt the Spirit as soon as they walked into our home — so overwhelming they were close to tears. A home hospitable to the Spirit will always be more welcoming to others. The visits were about our guests' comfort first. Visitors were always invited to sit down and were asked if they'd like something to drink. We were attentive to whomever was there — even as teenagers, there was no lurking around trying to avoid the guests. We were expected to come in and say hello if not sit for a little while. My mom also opened our home as an opportunity for us kids to be exposed to different cultures and beliefs. Students and faculty from all over were invited to come to dinner and bring something from their homeland to share.

    The above actions weren't always done to the T, but overall, the people who came left feeling that we enjoyed their visit rather than noticing that the living room was untidy or feeling that they'd inconvenienced us.

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  17. Oh wow, hospitality is different all over!

    Here in Australia, hospitality is based more on your culture than area. You just can't say that in Queensland people are more/less hospitable than Tasmania for example.

    It's hospitality here to ask someone "Can I get you anything – tea, coffee, drink?" when they first enter your home. After that it's up to being a good host or following your culture as to what you do/say/provide.

    Except at barbecues – if you hold a barbe, and don't have enough food, you'll never live it down! (Though that's probably culture as well!)

    (And I can't wait to do something like Op Smiles Leslie!)

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  18. It is lacking here big time. It is very easy to feel alone in a big ward. We've done the issue invites and had them repeatedly ignored. It can be deeply impersonal to show up at our particular ward, in fact- I've attended religious meeting in other denominations here- and they have been very welcoming! If I went to church based on where I felt welcomed, I would leave the church here immediately and convert to something else.

    We are military and just found out we are moving in a few months- I sincerely hope the ward we move to will be hospitable.

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  19. What timing. You could have been the one to respond to this question, Leslie. I'm going to link to your post in the comments there.

    Beautiful. Thank you for this.

    I think this kind of hospitality begins one person at a time, one home at a time.

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  20. Kay I'm with you. Reflecting on this a bit more today I have to admit that I've got some bad habits of self-consciousness left over from childhood. Our home was always a disaster (and I mean that honestly and truly). I never felt comfortable having friends over and would prefer to talk to them on the front step if they came over unannounced. Once a friend invited herself in to use the bathroom and never called me again. Yes, it was that bad.

    Now that I've got my own home we work as a family to keep it clean (better than when I grew up, but not perfect). I still have that feeling of stress and judgement when people come over. I feel like everything has to be perfect because they'll judge me (stop being my friend and think I'm trash). Because of all this emotional baggage when people stop by I don't invite them in, especially when they show up unannounced. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I'd rather seem a bit inhospitable than be judged for my housekeeping (or lack of it). This is something I should work on, habits die hard.

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  21. Leslie, this was a beautiful post and brought to mind why I loved living in a foreign country so much because I learned a great deal about myself. I also loved your comments about the Muslims. My experience with muslims and their fabulous hospitality has been nothing but positive. Anyhow, I'm too tired to add much to the conversation, but I really appreciated it.

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  22. My experience in Russia was quite similar…in the peoples homes. Russians have great reason to be reserved in public, however, in their homes, I have never met more hospitable people. They would offer me more than I needed, sometimes more than they had…their kindness knew no bounds. I miss that feeling here in the States yet I try to create it in my home.

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  23. I grew up in rural Saskatchewan where people dropped in regularly. These wonderful visits often turned into meals or at least some snack. We wouldn't have dreamt to call someone in advance to announce our arrival. Sometimes they would help with the chores; and sometimes it was a nice break from the tedious routines. But that was a long time ago. People seldom drop in unplanned now. Maybe as a society we care too much about appearances and having Martha Stewart worthy meals.

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