How to Be a Good Guest

Gina writes:

We've been invited to friends' houses on about 10 occasions since we came here 10 months ago (10 months! can you believe it?). Each time, there are certain things that take place, so we've come to learn what to expect. On Sunday, we made plans to catch a bus to Sunabeda, a town about 40 minutes from Koraput, where 3 of our co-workers live. It was a fairly typical trip, so instead of telling you about the specifics, we'll generalize with a lesson on how to be a good guest in an Indian's home.

  • A plate of food will be set in front of you, overflowing with sweets and snacks. Eat it all.
  • The plate(s) of food in front of you will be the only food being served in the room. Don't be embarrassed or ask them to eat with you, just eat. Don't eat too fast, though, because then your plate will be refilled.
  • In addition to the food, you'll be served tea and water and maybe pop or fruit punch. Make sure to complement the person who made the tea.
  • The tea cup might be slightly dusty. If so, know that the hosts have unearthed their "special" ceramic cups for their "special" guest. A little dirt won't hurt you!
  • Conversation might be slightly strained, because most Indians don't have free time to spend on hobbies or a social life. It's always a good bet to ask about family and to comment on the decor of the house.
  • Your friend who invited you is comfortable speaking English with you. The others in the room probably know a little English, but aren't confident enough to speak it in front of you. They are still curious though, so their is a lot of Oriya conversation that you know is about you, but that you can't understand. To join in the Oriya fun, try out one of your five Oriya phrases, but don't be surprised if they just laugh at how stupid you sound!
  • If there is a baby in the room, you're going to have to hold it and coo over it eventually, so just earn some extra points by holding your arms out in expectation. Even though there's a good chance it'll scream at the strange-looking person holding it, just do it.
  • The television will be on. If there's a lull in the conversation, you can always stare at the television. It's made easier by the fact that the English movie channel will inevitable be switched on for your benefit.
  • If there was a recent wedding (recent being within the past 3 years or so), you will have the opportunity to see wedding photos! A HUGE book (about 12 inches by 24 inches) is carefully removed from its case and set across your lap. These books cost the equivalent of $250 and are extremely precious, so many, many compliments are necessary.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it's generally pretty awkward. I'm not trying to be negative, since I truly appreciate our friends' offers to invite us into their homes. But the style of hosting and the lack of conversation topics and the near-assurance that the majority of the people staring at you will not speak English can make the guest feel as though he or she is in a fishbowl, on show for all to see.

Here's an awesome picture that really captures the situation!

However, all in all, it's always a good cultural experience and it cements the relationships that we have with co-workers, making it easier to get things done at work.