This is the first time I have lived with a host family during my travels. I’ve always thought that host families are awfully brave for opening their homes to strangers from all over the world, so I want to ensure I pay that kindness back in full.
Forget about teaching—trying to be a good guest has been the real source of anxiety. It is so important that these families continue to welcome guests, and I do not want to be the guest that makes them re-think their entire operation. “Did you see Elliott use his left hand when he ate tonight? We can’t be having anymore of that under this roof! No more guests!”
Of course my host has never said such a thing. Eating with your left hand, by the way, is considered gross because the left hand is reserved for bathroom duties (the same is true in India). Anyway I knew about that rule, but I knew there must be more, which is why I did as much reading about Moroccan etiquette on the plane ride as possible.
Really that’s all one needs to do in order to be a passable guest. There are many guides online that make dining and conversational etiquette explicit. The one rule those guides leave off is perhaps the most important but also the most obvious: be good. Here good is a catch-all term meaning say thank you, offer to help clean up, don’t make a mess, compliment the cooking, etc. etc. etc.
Just be good. Be good to your host family and be good in life.
HOWEVER. I do have one major complaint about the etiquette guides I read online. Olives are a staple food here, and NOT ONE GOD DAMN GUIDE mentioned the proper etiquette for spitting olive pits out of your mouth. I have come to my own conclusion that there is simply no graceful way of accomplishing this task, just like there is no graceful way to get out of a pool that doesn’t have steps or a ladder. Some things, I suppose, must be learned from experience.
5 thoughts on “Etiquette”
Elliott, your instinct for fine etiquette is part of your nature. You were born with it. And I send you more love today.
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Ha!!! I’m sure your Mom has shared the story of the 2 of us going to a fancy resteraunt in Hartford when I was in school there and we had olives that had pits. Since neither of us knew what to do with the pits we wrapped them in a napkin which when the waiter cleaned the table he grabbed and the pits went flying. So our cover of being sophisticated people was blown. Of course then we went on to the worse Volkswagen Bug breakdown on record later. And who told me they sat on their host families little dog when they went to eat dinner and broke its neck and killed it? So I’m guessing you aren’t doing that bad. You aren’t a lefty are you? You seem like one with your creativity but I don’t think you are?
That night in Hartford is one of my favorite memories—now that it’s over and we survived. And I can still conjure up that waiter’s expression when he grabbed the napkin full of olive pits. So embarrassing. I didn’t eat olives again for years.
Your “Be good” advice is similar to my “Be better” advice I give to my students. And be kind, especially when it’s hard.
Hope you had a pleasant Christmas Day, Elliott, but I think it probably didn’t feel like Christmas over there. Se sure missed you hear, though. More news next time, I promise. Love you.