Hospitality failure 101

When I was a kid, I remember thinking that adults clearly knew everything. It turns out that I was very wrong. I am now forty and the longer I live, the more I am convinced that I know absolutely nothing. I have spent the past decade in Maine, completely flummoxed about how one actually makes friends. Professionally, I have had great success in Maine, but personally? If I were in school, I might on good day receive a solid C.

For years, I thought maybe it was my blackness, my brashness, even the fact that I am “from away”, that was getting in the way of my moving beyond the acquaintance level. It turns out that Maine has some cultural differences that I wasn’t even aware of because in my circle back home, things were done differently.

Last night I was up late tweeting, once again about my lack of connections to people in Maine. When a local woman and fellow blogger who I know responded to me that while she had invited me to her house, I had never invited her to my house and that she felt she had tried to be my friend. Initially I was stunned and even angered until I realized that she was correct. In my circle of friendships in Chicago inviting friends to one’s home was not a given. In many cases someone may live in a small studio apartment that is simply not suitable for entertaining. One room apartments aren’t always the best spaces to invite people over to dinner. Instead those of us with roomy places may invite people over and as long as someone reciprocates by buying dinner/drinks/tickets the next time, it’s no big deal.  As a result, I have honestly never put a lot of stock into going to a friend’s house. I have been friends with a man, I have known since I was seventeen.  He has been present at my wedding, college graduation, lent me money…you get the point, yet I have never been inside his house and it never dawned on me to question the seriousness of our friendship because of it.

Yet in looking back at my past decade in Maine, I can clearly see where the Man Unit and I have made friendship forming missteps. People have invited us to their homes and generally in return, I offer to take them out to dinner the next time and my offer is met with a cold shoulder. That is generally the point where the connection would fizzle and until last night I had no idea that I was being rude and inhospitable. I feel silly admitting this.

I won’t lie; I have a bit of angst about entertaining at our house. We bought our home nine years ago and while it has solid bones, we knew it was going to need “some” work. When you buy a large old house though, there is no thing such as needing “some” work. Every project in the damn house costs double the original estimate hence how we ended up with a $20,000 roof less than 3 months after we bought the house. The following year, we ended up having to put in a complete new heating system and as a result blew our wad early on for the seemingly simple projects like wallpaper removal. Turns out this house doesn’t just have wallpaper you pull down, behind the ugly wallpaper lives horse hair plaster which is a nightmare to remove and one that couldn’t be done by us when the girl child was still a wee tot. So for nine years, we have lived with the world’s ugliest wallpaper.

My dining room wall

My dining room wall

When we relocated we decided to leave our lovely grown up and stylish furniture behind in Chicago, figuring that it would be cheaper to start all over in Maine rather than paying the transportation costs from Chicago to Maine. What a joke! That was a very bad idea. Maine lacks many of the inexpensive furniture places like…  Ikea, that we had in Chicago. So our house is a mish mash of furniture that looks like 2 overgrown frat boys landed in a 1880s Victorian house. I wish I was kidding. Of course we had a few rough years financially where our focus was on keeping the house and we couldn’t do anything. Now we are in a better place and starting to get serious about home improvement but it will be a process since it turns out that I am no Bob Villa and neither is the Man Unit.

All of this to say, I am extremely self-conscious about having people in my house; it’s a weird personal hang-up. So much so that the few times I have had people over, I burn the food and generally make a mess of things. When I have gone to other people’s houses in the past decade, I won’t lie, sometimes it bums me out. It’s a reminder of what we lost when we moved here. This is my own hang up but clearly one that is an impediment to making friends here in Maine and needs to be overcome.

Today I asked a Maine native about expectations of entertaining friends at one’s home and he told me that by and large Mainers prefer to entertain at home. For many people going out is seen as costly and simply something that is not done with any regularity…I didn’t know.

So after a decade in Maine, I have learned something new. I truly had no idea that the local views on getting together were so different than mine but I am open to changing my ways to meet the expectations of how things are done here. Already the Man Unit and I are planning a cookout as soon as summer arrives, so if you have served BGIM and her family some hospitality, look for the invite. I promise I will try not to burn the burgers up, if you promise not to stare too hard at the ugly wallpaper.

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