I had a wonderful weekend staying with friends outside of London: there was a big birthday celebration that was fun to participate in, and a chance to reconnect with their extended family and with the Surrey countryside. It was a wonderful day for the ferry back, too: the picture is today’s view of the ‘White Cliffs of Dover’.
They really went out of their way to help me to feel welcome in their household, something that I’ve noticed over and over again during European visits to people’s homes. I’m not sure how to account for it, but the differences with things back in America are striking.
A typical US household has a guest room where visitors stay. If that is filled, then we are much more likely to recommend a nearby hotel. In Europe, people are far more flexible about moving people around to accommodate guests: it varies from sleeping on inflatable mattresses and sleeping bags in the living room to pitching a tent in the back yard to moving family members among beds to make room.
We generally share expenses during a visit in the US. This may take the form of contributing to groceries, or paying for a dinner out with the hosts. Even when I visit my parents, this tends to be the rule. Here on the Continent, there is much less expectation of direct reciprocity: you become much more integrated in the household, perhaps even given money to go do grocery shopping when you run errands for the whole gang.
Although ‘helping out’ is appreciated in Europe, it’s not as rigid a custom as in the US. I generally try to help with the washing up after meals and try to keep things tidy and out-of-the-way, but there isn’t the same pressure to hit the mark and to strike a balance. In part, I think that people here are less concerned with having everything as neat-as-a-pin for the duration of any visit (the cleaning and tidying can get obsessive when relatives, in particular, come to visit in the US).
‘Just different ways of being welcoming and enjoying time with guests. This style reminds me much more of ‘crashing’ in college, when visiting friends for the night was simply ‘joining the gang’. I’ve picked up some of the practices: when friends and relatives visit the Netherlands, I’ve been more prone to include people in my ordinary activities, shifted rooms as necessary to accommodate couples, and stayed flexible on expenses and relaxed on cleaning. It makes for a more comfortable time and I feel like I’ve gotten to know people better.