Hospitality, defined as the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers, stems from the root word, host, and has been in use since the fourteenth century. The practice of hospitality and the value of the principles engendered by its observation existed long before the word, and is ingrained in the value systems of many cultures and religions. Hospitality is also a large and dynamic industry that includes lodging, food, drink, transportation, event planning, theme parks, and other related occupations.
As guests, when we interact with someone who works in the hospitality industry, we expect them to be welcoming, friendly, attentive, and respectful. Guests in the hospitality industry are also customers, and, therefore, expect the host to be accommodating and hospitable because they are exchanging currency for hospitality. While a customer is not wrong to expect the service for which they are paying, the exchange of money creates a barrier between host and guest that is unique to this capitalistic era. The relationship between host and guest has not always relied on the exchange of currency, but it has always relied on reciprocity.
All cultures that value hospitality expect hosts and guests to follow a set of rules based on the traditions of that culture. A present-day example is demonstrated in one of the simplest ways when a guest removes their shoes before entering the home of their host. It is also common for guests to be offered some refreshments, and for them to be comfortably accommodated– perhaps they are given a seat of honor at the table, or the best vantage point for watching tv. In exchange for the host’s hospitality, the guest is expected to behave in certain ways. For example, a guest should not aim to destroy their host’s property, and, typically, they are expected to express gratitude to their host. A guest might also bring a gift for the host to thank them for their hospitality.
Hospitality, in its truest form, operates under the assumption that all parties are equal– no life is more or less valuable than another. Hospitality is an important value for both hosts and guests, because to truly understand its principles, one must understand the overarching idea of reciprocity, which is an exchange with a mutual benefit. In the modern era reciprocity exists in the exchange of money for services, but in many cultures, past and present, it can be much more nuanced.
Old Norse tradition dictated that one should always welcome guests and wanderers, and offer them food, drink, and shelter. It was considered polite for the hosts to allow the guest to do most of the talking. The guest took responsibility for the conversation because they did not want to appear gluttonous by focusing solely on the food they were provided. A respectful guest made sure to retire before their host, so their host did not feel obligated to entertain. In the Old Norse tradition, hospitality was an important trait to possess, and it was understood that there would always be balance between giving and receiving. Hospitality was not meant to be practiced explicitly by the host or explicitly by the guest– it is a dynamic and reciprocal practice that both host and guest have a responsibility to understand. With the understanding of what it means to be a good host, in any culture, one gains a greater understanding of what it means to be a good guest. Both roles are important, and, even outside of the hospitality industry, there are countless opportunities to practice both. When one truly understands and practices hospitality, they will gain a better understanding of the world in general because they will begin to understand and practice reciprocity. Imagine what we could do if we embraced the reciprocity embedded in hospitality. What would happen if we took the exchange of currency out of the equation, and learned simply to be hospitable? What would we be willing to give to others, and what would they expect from us? What does hospitality look like outside of the hospitality industry? I believe a deeper understanding of hospitality will result in so much more than an improved workplace attitude.