In the beginning of the year 2006, I was staying with a woman and her family in Australia. She had invited me and was organizing my program in the area. I gave lectures and workshops in different places around town and individual sessions in her home. I learned a very valuable lessons while being with her: always ask your host before inviting more guests to his or her home!
Like everywhere I went, I cooked the food for the evening and the family with whom I stayed usually ate along. This family, too, ate the Indian food that I daily prepared and they thoroughly enjoyed it. It was mostly dinner, as I worked throughout the day, often giving many individual sessions in a row.
During one of these sessions, a lady was very interested in getting to know more about me, my family, my work and my charity projects. As there was only a limited time scheduled for one session, I could not go into detailed talk with her but as I saw her interest I simply asked ‘Why don’t you come for dinner?’ She was more than happy about this suggestion – obviously, as she would get to taste great Indian food and get a nice conversation and maybe a new, interesting friend – and finally she left.
After my remaining sessions were over, I went back to the main living area where I met my host. I told her that I had invited a woman for dinner and that she would come. The reaction shocked me.
‘You invited someone to dinner, to my home, without even asking me first? What if I didn’t want to have anybody around me tonight? Or if I had other plans?’
When she replied, I realized immediately that I had done a mistake. I had however never thought that this could be a problem! I had done this in Germany before, too – but I understood in that moment that I had usually been more by myself and maybe did not invite guests to other people’s homes. I was cooking there, too, but it was her home, her table, her family. I had obviously just been a bit too naïve.
I apologized in the next second, said sorry and told her that I would immediately make a call and tell this woman not to come, that we had different plans instead. This made her realize herself that her reaction had been a bit too harsh – but we just cancelled the dinner plan.
After a while, when we both had had time to sort out our thoughts, we had a talk and she asked ‘Is it normal for you to invite your friends when you are staying at someone’s home who doesn’t even know them?’
I explained her that I fully understood the point but that she should believe me that I had absolutely not thought of this! In India we have a different way of hospitality. If I have a guest at my home and am invited somewhere else, I can bring along my guests without problem. If you are staying at my home, you are more than welcome to bring anybody along for dinner and I wouldn’t mind if you didn’t tell me before. But I had realized that this was simply a different culture.
In the end, that was all there was. A difference of culture. And an important lesson for the future!