It’s been a busy time over here in Mantes La Jolie – we’ve had visitors.  I love houseguests. When I was little, we always had hoseguests during the summer – our cousins would come up and stay, or my grandparents, or uncles and aunts, or friends. We were a “relax, have fun, don’t worry about a thing” host – we would never worry about what to eat (an impromptu barbecue, some sandwiches, tomatoes from the garden…) or what to do – The creek is for swimming, go for a walk in the woods, play in he tree fort, kids! The adults would sit around and chat, the kids would run free – summer evenings were alwys spent watching the sunset, catching fireflies, or playing kick the can.

That was when I was little. When we lived in St Thomas, we had tons of houseguests. They came to visit the islands, and stayed with us. No problem – here’s a set of keys, we eat around seven, have fun! People were always dropping in, so I got used to being a host, got used to having to quick scramble for some clean sheets, find sleeping arragements for everyone, and stock the fridge with cheap eats for everyone. It became second nature. I hardly remember a time when we didn’t have a house guest. It is one way we remember time – “when did that happen? Was it when Jewel was staying with us, or Henry?” 

Then I grew up and left home, and met my husband, and we started to travel, and everywhere we went, we had houseguests. We had guests in Argentina, in England, in France – my husband got used to people literally calling from the airport – and twice waving and calling to us as they walked across the polo field – “Hey, Jenny and Stef! Just came over for a few days! Can I stay with you guys?”  Once it was Bob P., with his suitcase in hand and golf bag slung over his shoulder! The other time was Eileen, who surprised us in Deauville – she’d been sent to France by a magazine to write some articles and needed a home base.

We filled the house, we had fun – and we still get houseguests, and I feel so lucky that people want to stay with us.

Our latest guests were my cousin’s daughter and her friend – they stayed four days on their epic trip across Europe. And now it’s my nephew – who has come to enjoy some French bread, rest and relax after graduating, and have some fun. Tomorrow we are off to the pick-your-own farm, and Friday we are headed to Paris to see the dino exibit and to have a picnic in the Bois de Bologne.

I never really thought about it, but hospitality was always the credo of our family. According to the dictionary, hospitality refers to the relationship between a guest and a host, wherein the host receives the guest with goodwill, including the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt describes hospitality in the Encyclopédie as “the virtue of a great soul that cares for the whole universe through the ties of humanity”.

The word hospitality is derived from the Latin ‘hospes’ which means the stranger [staying under your roof], (thus guest). Hospes is formed from hostis, which means “stranger” or “enemy” (the latter being where terms like “hostile” derive). From hospes we get hospital, hospitality, hospice, hostel and hotel. In Greek, the word xenia, was the sacred relationship between host and guest. From that, we get xenophobia – the opposite – fear of strangers, especially those with different customs and languages.

Houseguests, at least for us, are more than welcome!

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