Hospitality across cultures

Based on my own personal experience and the time I spent living in India, the Middle East and Europe, I have encountered people from all over the world. To me each person has their own story, their own culture and their own idea of hospitality!

Our planet is a melting pot of different cultures and numerous traditions, all different from one another and to experience each of them can take a lifetime! The best we can do is to learn as much as we can before we visit or are about to host a person from a different culture. 

A myriad of cultures

Cultural difference can be quite entertaining and at the same time frustrating. It has been rightly explained by Sarah A. Lanier in her book Foreign to Familiar. Sarah has lived and worked in many countries and experienced different cultures first-hand. As per her understanding, different cultural traits can be divided into two categories: Hot Culture and Cold Culture. I would recommend this book to all those who work in hospitality, because it is very important to identify which culture a guest is from so that you can adjust your services accordingly!

What are “Hot” or “Cold” cultures?

The main difference as per Lanier is, people from hot culture value relationships, the bond that they make; whereas, people from cold culture value efficiency. The basic explanation about these cultural traits may lie in the weather and economy around the world. In warmer weather conditions, people lived off the land and were interdependent on each other’s needs. In areas with cooler climatic conditions, people developed a more task oriented and independent approach. 

Hot cultures include people from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the Mediterranean, Pacific Islanders, Eastern Europeans, southern USA and South and Central Americans.

Cold cultures include people from northern USA and Canada, Switzerland and countries located north of Switzerland, Caucasians from New Zealand, Australians, South Africans and areas largely settled by Europeans. 

At this point, it might be nice to make a note of what culture you belong to and how you can treat people from a culture other than your own.

The key differences between people from hot and cold cultures

Relationship vs. Task Orientation

People from Hot culture are relationship oriented and build their lives around others. For them efficiency and time do not take precedence. Whereas, people from Cold culture give efficiency and time high priorities. 

Identity

Hot cultures are Group oriented whereas, Cold cultures are more Individualistic. In a hot culture, a person may find his/ her identity in a group setting, where their behaviour reflects on the entire group. On the contrary, people from cold culture have their own distinct identities. They are independent and members of a group tend to give input and directions to their team leader.

Personal Boundary

Hot cultures are inclusive. Individuals from such cultures are included in meals and other activities of the group. Cold cultures prefer relational boundaries that are set and maintained. 

Hospitality

For people from Hot culture, hospitality is spontaneous, whereas, hospitality is serious and planned for people from Cold culture. In hot cultures, the host takes care of everything. On the contrary in cold cultures, guests are expected to pay unless the host has offered.

Time Management

People from Hot culture are event oriented, spontaneous and flexible in their approach to life. Whereas, time is a precious commodity for Cold culture. They enjoy efficiency and structure in their approach.

So, what is the fuss?

Absolutely nothing! What amazes me is the beauty and complexity of different cultures and hospitality traditions which intertwine and form a larger culture. For example, Asian hospitality has gained its reputation for excellence in the quality of service (intangible experience) that is offered to the guest. People from Asia supposedly have a strong cultural education with respect to “kindness” and “giving”. Irrespective of their different cultural background and hospitality traditions, you are bound to receive a warm and friendly service!

But what exactly is Asian hospitality? It cannot be described in a singular context. It depends on which part of Asia you visit and you might have a completely different experience. But it includes some major aspects from South East Asia (Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia), the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh), East Asia (China, South Korea, Japan) and West Asia (the Middle Eastern countries). A combination of all these cultures gives you a glimpse of “Asian” hospitality!

On the contrary, Western hospitality is more about the tangible experience, i.e., quality of facilities, largeness of room or amenities offered, grandeur, exceptional food etc. Here too, there is a difference between hospitality offered in the US and that offered in Western Europe. In Western Europe, hospitality establishments are more focused on etiquette and providing a refined service. It also to some extent involves a need-based approach, where guest rooms and facilities are designed intuitively and at some places have a minimalistic style like in the Nordic countries. Whereas, in the US, hospitality establishments go above and beyond to please their guests. They offer some of the most extravagant options in lodging and dining. 

True Hospitality is what you experience at home

I believe true hospitality is experienced at home – whether it is your own, or someone else’s. I take great pride in my culture and I still remember my childhood when I used to hear stories from my grandparents. Part of the credit goes to them for making me so intrigued about experiencing different cultures! 

I also believe the service/ hospitality that you experience in a star hotel is very corporate and doesn’t truly resonate with the local culture. The service is broad, rote and by the book. They try to incorporate some of the local customs and mix it with their own brand standards, which to me dilutes the whole experience! The true spirit of hospitality lies if you stay with your host or find an accommodation which truly offers such an experience without exaggeration or dilution of customs. 

Final thoughts

Every country and every citizen are proud of their own hospitality culture – that they are born with and that they currently live in! Enjoy exploring and let me know your thoughts if you have experienced amazing hospitality in one of your recent travel escapes!