When I, for the first time, came across the term “hospitality” (in English), I confused it with the word “hostility.” Whoever explained the difference to me must have been an Indian, because it was there that I first heard (of) the term, and ever since, the expression “hospitality” for me is connected with a concept that goes far beyond what is commonly understood by the German word “Gastfreundschaft.”
In a radio report about “Deutsche Gastfreundschaft,” a correspondent from Iran summarized his experience, saying that in Germany, “‘ beschränkt sich Gastfreundschaft auf ein Glas Wasser aus der Leitung und, wenn es hochkommt, einen Kaffee’” (“hospitality is limited to a glass of water from the tap, and if you are lucky, a cup of coffee”) (Wilke 2017). Having once visited a colleague near Nuremberg, he narrates, he had to sleep on an ancient couch. Next to him slept the dog, who at least had a pillow. “‘Im Iran hätte ich als Gast das beste Bett bekommen und der Gastgeber hätte auf diesem altersschwachen Sofa gelegen’” (“in Iran, as a guest, I would have had the best bed, and the host would have slept on this age-worn sofa”).
Having in mind what is common practice in his home country, what he experienced could, by some, indeed be perceived as “hostility.” An interviewee from Hungary, on a scale of 1 to 10, would give us a five on the subject of hospitality, while a Mexican correspondent points out that “Die Deutschen sind aber eher auf den zweiten Blick gastfreundlich. Wenn sie einen einladen und bewirten, dann ist das ganz ernst gemeint. Daraus entstehen richtige Freundschaften, die auch ein Leben halten” (“Germans are usually hospitable (only) at second sight. When they invite and entertain you, they are sincere in their pursuit of a meaningful relationship. The result is real friendships that last a lifetime”) (ibid. 2017).
One of my Chinese clients once told me how he, whenever he is in Munich for a bi-annual fair, is invited to one of his clients’ homes for dinner. To my ears, that sounded like the ultimate honor, like when you are granted a knighthood. Either they were sourcing the most critical components from him, I thought, or they must really like this guy.
Germans are rather protective of their private lives and think twice before they invite someone to their homes. When traveling through Morocco a few years ago, and while facing some difficulties in finding accommodation at short notice, I ended up spending one night on the sofa of a young lady I had just met on the bus; even during my student days, it most likely would never have occurred to me to offer a place to stay to someone I didn’t know.
When I traveled to Bangalore in 2001, for what I remember was the 45th anniversary of the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, one of my Indian friends arranged for my accommodation: I slept in the children’s room at his cousin’s place. The daughter of the house slept with the mother, while the father, whom I only met the next morning, had to move to the living room. […] If you think “so what?,” be prepared for the discovery that Germans are somewhat different…
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