June 28, 2013

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Hospitality and entertaining the guests from hell

Cynthia DewesHospitality is one mark of Christian behavior. The Benedictine community which staffs Saint Meinrad Archabbey lives it out as one of its prime virtues, and Scripture cites many examples of it. I think of Martha and Mary entertaining Jesus and his disciples in their home.

So we are called to be hospitable, to welcome visitors and even strangers with kindness and generosity. You’d think this was a simple, natural effort, but surprise! Sometimes, human nature kicks in and we wind up with the guests from hell, or a close facsimile. Here’s an example.

Our German son-in-law, a teacher, corresponded for several years during the Cold War with an East German teacher whom he’d met at a conference. Both were curious about conditions in the other Germany. They were what you’d call professional acquaintances.

When the Berlin Wall came down, most Germans were thrilled. At last, they were one nation again, and optimism reigned. So when the East German teacher phoned to say he was coming to visit his counterpart in the West, everyone was pleased.

Sure enough, the teacher showed up on Kate and Johannes’ doorstep, along with some family members and a hired driver. In the usual Communist fashion, they had no car of their own. They immediately swarmed in and established themselves in the guest room and on couches here and there, exuding good cheer. Making no mention of how long they intended to stay, they happily ate and drank everything in the house.

Their driver, who slept in the living room, turned out to be a surly chain smoker and heavy drinker who fell into a stupor in the wee hours each night in front of the TV. Of course, this followed his frequent visits to the Reeperbahn red-light district of Hamburg.

After a few days of all this, Johannes, hoping for respite and privacy, crept to the bathroom early one morning only to find it already occupied by one of the guests. And every time he tried again, someone beat him into the bath. The East Germans adored Western comforts.

The final straw came when the visiting teacher noticed a TV set in the guest room. He asked Johannes if he could have it, since there were more TVs downstairs. In no uncertain terms, the answer was an explosive “no!” And the guests from hell took the hint and departed.

Apparently this is not an isolated incident, or confined to one nationality. Local friends reported a similar experience in which acquaintances from a cruise they’d both taken called to say they would visit them when passing through the area. Of course, our friends were happy to offer their hospitality. And again, the guests stayed for days, mooching and making themselves at home.

And how about the Chevy Chase movie European Vacation, in which the Griswold family descends on a German couple unannounced. The Germans generously feed and house them overnight although they are mystified as to who they are. Next morning, the Griswolds drive happily away shouting their thanks. The German couple turn to each other and ask auf Deutsch, “Who was that?” Because, of course, they were visitors from hell.

Luckily, most hospitality fulfills its intrinsic purpose, which is to demonstrate love and care for others. And most guests respond in kind, with loving expressions of gratitude. Hospitality brings joy to everyone concerned. Just be sure to call ahead before you arrive. And don’t stay so long that you see desperation on the faces of your hosts.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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