Through the lens, lightly
Whenever someone tells me: “Thank you for offering to host me” — in a tone that sounds gratuitously grateful — I start feeling very stressed. It happened to me recently, when after a long, long time, I had a guest coming over to stay with me for a couple of days, and I was told these exact words.
But before that, a brief recap. During both the ages of BC (Before Covid) and PC (Post Covid), I have often wondered if I am a good host. I don’t think I am. Because I get irritated when I am at the end of what is deemed “good hospitality” and realize I could never be in the shoes of a conventional ‘good host’s’ pair of goody two shoes. So, if I am at somebody’s place and they start to ply food and drinks on me like they are going out of fashion (believing it’s a hospitable gesture), I start feeling claustrophobic. “Why aren’t you eating? Here, have some more of these kebabs (or dim sums or falafel or whatever)…” and then they proceed to dump stuff on my plate. My position is, if I — the guest — want food or drinks or conversations, I will seek them out. At my convenience. Giving someone enough space — to eat voraciously or sparingly, to circulate, to talk, to stand on the balcony (and admire the views) — I think is the hallmark of being a good host… it’s what I follow assiduously when folks are over for dinner or lunch or to take part in a movie marathon.
The rules get tricky when there is a guest who’s staying over. Add to that the fact you don’t know this person too well, and haven’t really established a comfort level. Such an eventuality descended upon me in a post-pandemic phase when I thought I was displaying signs of being anti-social: I got tired, bored, annoyed at the drop of a hat. “Oh GOD, someone is coming over,” was my immediate thought, but I had to put on my game face for a visiting cousin who I’ve never interacted with much — but is still family, which means there was a good chance that the grapevine will get working if my efforts fall below expectations.
I live in a one-bedroomed apartment, but I do have a sofa in the living area that morphs into a bed. Do I offer the bedroom to my guest, was my first thought. “You should totally take my bedroom,” I started, my heart was already sinking at the prospect of him opening my wardrobe door and discovering a right earnest mess.
He was nice enough to insist — adamantly — that he was going to sleep on the couch. He made his own bed (the sofa that turns into a bed). As a first-timer to the city, he found his way around Dubai while I was busy at work (“It’s such an easy city to navigate,” he remarked), and even managed to buy jewelery for his wife from Gold and Diamond Park without the added benefit of my female gaze. He also was most insistent that he pick up the bills each time we ate out.
Then, he wanted to do the dishes when a heap had piled up in the sink. I let him do all of these — because, like I said, my idea of being a good host is to allow the guest to have his (or her) way.
The only thing I was allowed to do to be ‘hospitable’ was to get him a Zero card, where I managed to put a note on the counter before he could draw out his wallet. Oh, and I got to make him a poached egg for breakfast every morning since he’s particular about protein intake the first thing in the day.
“You’re such a good host,” I was told as he was about to leave for the airport to return home to Singapore. When he saw the incredulous look on my face, he added, “No, seriously, I mean that, you gave me so much space.”
I guess it’s not too tough to be a good host when you have a good guest over.