This summer, I went with my sister and my fiancé to Greece and spent 2.5 weeks island hopping and visiting family for the first time. Even though we had never met before, it didn't seem to make a difference. Distant aunts and cousins welcomed us into their homes with open arms, acting as though they had known us for all our lives. It was such a change from NYC, where you are suspicious of strangers and fear talking to new people, lest they be a weirdo. At first we felt a little awkward, but we quickly learned to love their hospitality. It was nice being part of a big family and meeting new people.
While staying with various family members in places ranging from big cities to tiny towns, we noticed they all had something in common when it came to how they treat visitors. Here are nine lessons I learned about being a hostess.
1. Treat every guest as if they are your family. To Greeks, everyone is family whether you've known them for 5 minutes or 5 years. They love to open their homes and their hearts to people, always making sure their guests are comfortable. Their favorite thing to do is to feed everyone, so you have to always bring a big appetite!
2. Give your guests lots of options. When we stayed with my dad's aunt, she offered us a pair of her pajamas to sleep in. She opened up her dresser and showed us all the options and urged us to wear whatever we wanted instead of choosing one for us. Even though we had our own pajamas, we were excited to choose from her selection. My sister and I even fought over the same pair!
3. Show guests that your home is their home. In Greece, it's not enough to just tell someone to make themselves at home. You have to show them how they can open the fridge when they want to, show them where items are in the kitchen cupboards, and where the laundry machine is. This serves two purposes- taking some of the responsibility away from the host, and allowing the guests to feel 100% welcome and comfortable.
4. Always have some fruits and snacks on hand. In Greece, you can't go to someone's house without being offered something to eat. We were constantly offered delicious, ripe fruit. It was an easy thing to serve that everyone enjoyed. It has virtually no prep time, it's healthy, and it can be served on the fly in case you get unexpected guests.
5. If someone is a picky eater, find a way to accommodate them. As an extremely picky eater, I was nervous to have people cook for me. Luckily, everyone was super accommodating. They would order some chicken souvlaki for me, or modify their recipes to make it to my liking. It really helped me to feel at ease! To make your guests feel welcome, ask about dietary restrictions or allergies ahead of time to avoid any surprises.
6. Be open to people even if you don't understand them. My fiancé doesn't speak Greek, but that didn't stop anyone from treating him like family. They would bond with him in any way possible, whether it was sharing a beer or offering him food.
7. Make a signature dish from your culture. Some people are afraid to try new foods (guilty!) but others can be very curious to learn more about your culture. Pick a dish that's unique but safe and serve it to your guests so that they can get a taste of the local cuisine. Or, if you've got people visiting from out of town, make something that's regional. It can be a city favorite, something locally sourced, or fresh produce.
8. Always offer something sweet after a meal. In Greece, restaurants always serve you some kind of small dessert or liqueur after dinner. It's a nice gesture that shows your business was appreciated. If you have a friend come over, even just to drop something off, offer them a small treat and a coffee, and have a quick chat before they go.
9. It's always a good time for a spontaneous dance party. Greeks love to dance, so it's totally normal for them to put on some music and suddenly break into a line dance. It's really fun and silly, and you aren't judged for being bad at it. Next time a friend comes over, try playing something popular, like the Macarena, and burst into giggles as you do the dance.
The main thing I learned from Greece was that any gathering can become a celebration. Next time you have friends and family together, try some of these tips to turn an ordinary dinner into a can't-wait-until-next-time soiree.
Have you learned any lessons about being a hostess in your travels? What are they?! Leave them in the comments.