I am reading a new young adult fiction book called “American Street” about a girl named Fabiola from Haiti who comes to visit relatives in urban Detroit. Her plans do not include returning to Haiti.
One aspect of the book (no spoilers I promise) that greatly affected me is the contrast between the sense of home and gracious hospitality in Haiti and the utter lack thereof at her relatives’ house in Detroit.
There is no celebration for my arrival; no meal is cooked, no neighbors are invited to welcome me . . . I open the fridge to find bottles of soda and ketchup and hot sauce and mayonnaise. . . . In the freezer are boxes of pizza and waffles and frozen meat wrapped in plastic. . . . I grab a slice of orange cheese wrapped in plastic. . . . I can’t believe this is the first thing I eat in America. It tastes like a mix of glue, chalk, and salt.
This may be a work of fiction, but the scenario doesn’t feel all that fictitious to me. I recognize the cultural trend in America that says, I’m too busy to host– I don’t want to deal with the stress– or – We’ll just grab a pizza. Trust me, the reason this the theme spoke to me is because I have thought, and said, all of those things myself!
When I think about my own childhood, though, so many of the happy memories of family celebrations are centered around the special meals people took time to make. My Grandma’s ever present Nesco roaster . . . My mom’s fantastic Thanksgiving meals, including homemade cranberry sherbet . . . my Aunt’s rosettes (a fiddly Scandinavian cookie).
Sometimes I think Martha Stewart just wrecked us all. The standards are so high that if you aren’t weaving your own tablecloth you might as well just buy your Christmas dinner at Boston Market and call it a day.
For me, the vision portrayed in “American Street” solidifies the importance of hospitality for friends and family. These gestures say “You’re special” and have long reaching effects that most of us won’t ever realize. I don’t have to weave my own tablecloth for a fancy dinner; a simple recipe prepared at home or flowers from the garden are ways to share love and create memories.
What are your thoughts on the state of hospitality in western life? What are some ways you like to show you care even though it seems like “a bother”?