How to be a Good Host

My friend Charlene is a board member with the Filipino Lawyers of Washington. Every year they host a banquet to raise money for a scholarship program that supports law school students. The banquet was a mile from my house, so Charlene wanted to freshen up before her dinner. She asked the right person.

Asians are famous for being great hosts. However, I was initially reluctant to let Charlene into my home.

Rule #1: Always clean the house, scrub the bathrooms, and take out the trash before any guests come over. Asians take pride in welcoming guests into our homes.

It was a Friday and I was working from home, which is fantastic if you’re not a morning person. I wake up when I want, get to walk around in my pajamas, and I had grown used to the odors coming from my bathroom. Having Charlene over would ruin my perfect day. I wanted to give the impression that I am organized and well kept, even if I really am a slob.

Rule #2: Asians must show off their things, especially if they are perceived to be expensive or shiny. It’s important to establish who has higher status in every host/guest relationship.

Unfortunately, I work in a non-profit and Charlene is a lawyer–the odds weren’t in my favor. Hey Charlene, check out my cellphone. It has 16 colors and a calculator. Oh… have an Iphone. Get out of my house!

I eventually consented and allowed Charlene to come over. I started tidying up and carefully laid out all of my degrees, awards, and medals. When she arrived, we exchanged simple pleasantries and I offered her some water.

“No thanks,” she replied.

We talked about why Vietnamese and Filipino people weren’t more civically engaged in their communities and what can be done to improve things. Then we moved onto dating and relationships. I learned that she was having some troubles. “Oh that’s too bad,” I replied, trying to sound comforting. “But on the bright side, I’m in a great relationship right now.”

James 1 – Charlene 0

Charlene continued telling me about a guy he was trying to break it off with, but I interrupted her mid-sentence, “Do you want some ice cream? I have cherry vanilla and chocolate chip cookie dough.”

“Uh…no,” Charlene replied, confused. She laughed nervously. “Why are you asking me this?”

Rule #3: Asians must always give food and drink to their guests. This shows that we are benevolent, with the power to both give and take.

“Um…I dunno,” I finally answered. “Cause I’m…….Asian?” Damn it. I messed up Rule #3. I asked Charlene if she wanted water or ice cream, which was a huge mistake. What I should have done was pour her a 32 of glass of water and given her a Mandarin orange. Then stare at her intensely until she finished both. She put me on the defensive by rejecting my offer. I’m now in the position of being a terrible host who serves terrible food.

James 1 – Charlene 1

“What do you want Charlene!?” I demanded. “Chicken, steak? A horse? I will get you a horse.”

She giggled. I could tell that she was mocking me inside. “Well, I should go get ready now.” She spent the next 45 minutes in the bathroom. We didn’t speak again until she finished getting ready.

James 1 – Charlene 2

On the surface, there may seem to be vast differences between how Asians and other cultures welcome guests into our homes. For example, Vietnamese use specific pronouns to address our friends, whereas mainstream Americans are fine with a firm handshake and smile.

Peel away the surface, however, and you find that good hosting is simply showing respect for others. It’s about our shared humanity: exchanging stories, helping friends, and breaking bread. Alcohol helps too.

As it turns out, there’s still a lot I have to learn before obtain my dragon badge in hosting. But first, I need to figure out how to kick people out who have overstayed their welcome.


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