A particularly striking intercultural experience – Taiwanese hospitality

and how that has changed my perspective on having guests and how to treat them

After arriving in Taiwan, one of the first “things” to recognise was that Taiwanese people are very friendly. Whether as a tourist or as an exchange student, I always had the feeling that the people were very warm and welcomed me with sincerity and curiosity. 

However, I only experienced the true extent of this kindness during the last month of my stay, when I travelled to rural areas to volunteer at a rural school. While I had already been traveling at the beginning of my trip, this time I had the opportunity to stay with local families who were willing to host me for a few of days. While the volunteering in itself was already a wonderful and heart-warming experience – since the students and the teachers were all very curious and interested – what was even more touching to me was how incredibly well the host families would take care of me.

Having already travelled to many countries and often stayed with local people under similar conditions, the hospitality I have encountered in Taiwan is beyond comparison. The people I stayed with welcomed me very warmly, showed me around their cities and made sure that NO need, desire or wish of mine would be left unfulfilled – they would even prepare a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and so on for me. And, as if that weren’t enough, at the end of my stay they even gave me presents!

Honestly, I generally felt treated like a king.

Initially I felt bad because all I could offer them was my time, my presence and my experience as well as the Swiss chocolate I brought with me. As a result, I felt uncomfortable, especially as I was usually invited for meals, and was gifted items when leaving.

Therefore, I initially tried to pay some meals. However, I realized that people would feel uncomfortable if I paid either for myself or for the whole group. Out of curiosity about this behaviour, I talked to my friends and hosts about this matter. With a face beaming with joy they said that they were happy to welcome me to their home. And while I assume that everybody would say something like that, in Taiwan I could sense that they really meant it and felt this way. They then explained that they were happy to have guests from so far away, that they (to a certain extent) were proud that somebody from so far away had come to stay at their home and shared his experience and culture with them. 

In addition to that, they thought that I had already paid to travel to their place, so they wanted to cover the expenses as far as possible. Also, many people explained to me that it is a sign of being able to take good care of one’s guest if one can cover their (food) expenses during their stay.

It was very interesting for me to observe how the discussion about their perception of guests affected me even more than the experience of being their guest. While being their guest obviously was a wonderful and memorable experience, talking to my friends and hosts about the perception and reception of guests really changed my attitude towards this topic. While in recent years I have moved far away from the idea that welcoming people at my home is a burden, I have realised that changing my thinking even more is much more beneficial. I came to love the idea of feeling happy (and perhaps even slightly honoured) when people come to stay me, and consequently treat them like queens and kings.

For me, this is closely related to the concept of “paying forward”, which I generally value very much: Although we live in a very interconnected world and are really interdependent, the idea of being able to pay back everything is neither reasonable, nor desirable. To “pay something forward” is therefore a logical way to contribute to improving the world.

As a result, while during the past I have already been looking forward to having guests, in the future I want to elaborate that feeling of excitement and gratitude when somebody (from far away) comes to my home to stay with me. Doing so will not only help to make the stay of my guests an unforgettable experience, but also help me to become the best (host) I can possibly be.

I sincerely hope that I can make my future guests feel as warmly welcomed at my home as I have felt in many homes in Taiwan, and that they too are going to feel emotionally moved when leaving my place.

Moris Steiner

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