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.

15 thoughts on “Hospitality failure 101”

  1. 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.

  2. I’m the same, but for different reasons. I grew in a family that never wanted to have people over because the house was never clean enough or they weren’t or their hair wasn’t done or whatever. Apparently they thought everything had to be perfect and of course nothing ever is. I have a very nice house, but I realize now that for some reason the setup is not very conducive to a entertaining a crowd. Maybe one or two people. I have several rooms that I now realize were designed for a small group – me, hubby, and the two doggies. Having grown up in a family of people who were never, ever ready for company, I decided my doors would always be open and they were when I was younger. But I now find myself not wanting to have company in my sanctuary. I live there, why would I want to entertain there? I want to go out, not cook, and clean up. Right now I’m in a little circle of coworkers who have had several gettogethers in their homes, including an upcoming pool party and a little going away party for me. I chew my nails at the thought that at some point, someone is going to expect me to reciporate. I’m finally living in the nicest place I’ve ever lived and I now I don’t want to entertain! (When I bought the place I also made sure I had enough saved to furnish the place immediately, knowing if I didn’t, it would take forever to do so.)

  3. I don’t like to invite people over because I live in the boonies and I’m convinced no one would want to drive that far out just to see me. I never looked at it as rude…

    I’m having a lot of the same problems, but mine stem from divorce. I lost most of “our” friends and realized that I didn’t have any of my own. Now, maybe I understand part of why.

  4. Egads! I confess to having committed this social faux pas. I’m a “Yankee” from New England, but have never heard of this. Perhaps it is a Maine thing. Good to know though. My personal hang-up stems from some form of social anxiety…..maybe a fear of being judged? My issue, I know, which I will have to work on.

  5. That’s really interesting. I am yet another who rarely has people over. Part of it is that I’m not an entertainer by nature so just the thought makes me nervous. Plus my place is small and needs work, etc. And like you, I’m originally from a place where people go out. Now I’m wondering if that’s held me back. Something to think about.

    • It seems like something that can interfere with relationships forming. I will say that everyone who has replied to me either here, email, or twitter and who struggles with making connections also are folks not prone to entertaining at home. Strange But now we all know.

  6. If you lose friends because your home is not nice enough for them, they were not friends to begin with. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but I finally did and I am the Queen of Unfortunate Rooms! Also with an old house with money-suckage issues… Friends are about you, not your place!

    • I think I am less concerned about losing friends and more concerned with comfort. I don’t find my home to be terribly comfortable as far as sitting around. We recently realized our chairs our not comfy to us, much less guests. Just one of those small things to work on.

  7. I think you and Kelly and I need to get together in each others homes and realize that if there are three of us living like this, there are probably more! My house is fairly open concept and I have young children who have large toys (and hand me down slip covered furniture until the kids are older!). I’ve not invited many people in because the house is *always* (and I truly mean always) in a state of disorder/chaos/playscape/progress. I vow to make a committed effort to open my house and host something this summer!

    • I think most of us are dealing with that and in my experience it tends to be even crazier if both partners work out of the house. Chaos is just a given at certain stages of life it seems.

  8. I love that you wrote this. I am also guilty of this. When we moved from NC four years ago I sold off many of my things so that I wouldn’t have to pay to move them here to Maine. I too figured we would buy new and improved things once we settled. HA! Along came the recession. So now I am making do but I hate having people over because I wish my home looked a certain way. Funny, because I always wanted an open house where people liked to hang out at. The most ironic thing is just this week I was talking to my mom about it, who coincidentally is the most critical person I know, and she told me I was crazy and that there is nothing wrong with my house or my furnishings. Maybe it is in my head. That said, let’s hold each other to having get-togethers at each of our places this summer. 🙂

  9. I am guilty of this. I rarely ever invite people to my house for dinner & socializing. It has dawned in me that upon leaving someone’s home, I say, let’s do lunch, dinner, etc., but I never mean at my house.I think is has to do with my homes lack of decorations, along with my 10 yr old couches. Here in LA, going out for socializing is accepted, but now I wonder if that’s just my thinking. I have learned something too, thank you. Guess it’s time to have people over more often.

  10. I never invite people over. I used to when we lived other places, but this place is small and I hate it. I wonder if people are put off by that here as well. Something to think about for sure.

    • It seems to be something that many of us are dealing with, so you are in good company.

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