Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gracious Reciprocation

Dear SG:
Would you please give some guidelines about hospitality reciprocity? My mother taught me never to accept a personal invitation to someone's home unless you were willing to reciprocate. Has this rule of thumb vanished with the times?

Grace Says:

Feeling kind of like Cinderella, huh?

Your mother's edict is correct--with an asterisk. It is absolutely necessary to "give back" to your hosts, but this can be done in a Gracious way that doesn't require seats at your dining room table.

As one who entertains with alarming frequency, I can tell you from personal experience that I do not host in order to become a guest. I love to have people in my home, am usually thrilled to be invited to parties, but it is not a scorecard. And if it were, I would be winning by a lot (or losing, depending on your point of view.) Truthfully, if I only hosted people who invited back in the traditional sense I'd be limited to a tiny social circle, and that just wouldn't suit me.

Some people are wonderful guests but hosting isn't their bag--maybe they can't cook, maybe they have small children, a studio apartment, an unfriendly Doberman, or an OCD that requires too many Valiums when intruders enter their clean zone. Maybe they are in a tough financial position--an epidemic these days. Though I'll warrant, a pot of soup, a loaf of bread and a plate of cookies would not break most of us--if your friends are in that position, they have far bigger worries than outstanding social obligations.

Reciprocating does not mean a "tit for tat" balance on every invitation, nor does it require economic parity. It means that you reach out to your friends in ways that are meaningful, thoughtful, and pleasant for everyone.

Candidly, I would favor a fairly direct response--if you are invited to dinner at someone's home, then most Graces would return the identical favor in a relatively timely fashion. But for those whom this type of hospitality impossible, here are some suggestions on Gracious Reciprocations that do not involve hosting in the home and/or significant financial outlay:

  • Take your hosts out to eat. Say, "Grace, we had a wonderful time with you and Grant last week and would like to take you out to dinner. Shoot me some dates and I'll set it up." This conveys that you intend to pay; make sure the server knows this ahead of time to avoid a tabletop wrestling match.
  • Coordinate a night out at the movies. If your budget is tight, aim for the night the art house has "2 for 1" tickets and pony up if possible.
  • Host a picnic at a local park. Skip the caviar if your wallet is light.
  • Organize an outdoor activity such as a hike, bike ride, or trip to a public garden.
  • Support the arts; theatre/concert tickets absolve you of hosting at home. A lower cost option: many museums offer free admission on certain days, plan a visit.
  • Invite the hostess out for coffee or a drink. Pay.
  • Reach out in other ways--water the garden when they go on vacation, drop off a batch of chili, babysit/house sit/pet sit.

Remember, this is a friendship, not a balance sheet. If you're the chronic host and are bothered by this lack of reciprocity, cease and desist inviting the freeloaders. And if you are one of those freeloaders, scan the list above and choose the option that fits you best. In the meantime, stop keeping score and enjoy your time with your pals.

But bear in mind: unless you have a Fairy Godmother, a slew of animal friends or a truly special brand of Prince Charming on hand for cooking and cleaning, hosting is work. Given that, you may want to pare down your hosting calendar, or at least disperse your particular brand of fairy dust (i.e. your Gracious hospitality) amongst a smaller, more appreciative lot.

No comments: