In the olden days the guests used to come to your house unannounced, any time of the day or even late night. You didn’t do much complaining, because those days there were limited facilities available to remain busy with: there were no mobile phones and only the privileged few boasted of having landlines; there was no social media or instant messaging apps; you had limited choices for entertainment, for example, no twenty-four hour TV channels and so very rare live telecast of events or sports, a solitary movie house in your locality, and the omnipresent radio did not really disturb you much as you could listen from anywhere in the house, doing anything, and that you also did the same on your turns as did your guests. Therefore, you were not irritated or disturbed even when the guests landed up suddenly for lunch or supper.
As modernization started taking hold of us with choices opening up aplenty, you becoming busy all the time you decided that prior intimation before coming is part of etiquette, and if those norms were violated you got irritated, embarrassed or even angry. Now, let’s not analyze the activities that keep you busy nowadays. In this scenario we will discuss our topic, primarily in context of India which is believed to have high values of hospitality. And of course, we will exclude from our analysis all those uncouth people who treat guests deferentially based only on their rank and file. We’ll also not consider the phenomenon of house-guests whose numbers, anyway, are dwindling at a very fast rate thanks to modernization and business.
Depending on the nature of visits there are various types of guests who can visit you, but whoever the guest is and whatever be the type, the basic approach is that you must be cordial to all of them, smiling at them even if you are irritated, and you must always offer them a seat and a glass of water; for the remaining part of your hospitality you are free to decide, and in fact, keep ready a manual.
Lots of people visit you on a daily basis on matters of errands, consultation or giving a personal opinion or message. Technically, they cannot be termed as guests because they are not close to you or relate to you in any other way. Therefore, you can entertain them at the veranda if you have any or in the chairs closest to main door, and should the visit take a considerable amount of time you are free to offer him/her a cup of tea, not necessarily with biscuits.
Then classmates of your school or college-going children visit your house often for discussions or just company. Here, the guests normally enter the study room where your children live. Now, the lady of your house must never call her child inside for food meant for him/her only; all must be offered the same food and you must understand that those kids always come hungry. Your office colleagues or your boss or teachers or tutors or doctors are always held in high esteem and you host them in the best of ways possible, often calling some of them to have tea and snacks at the dining table.
For guests who are not that close or that distant, but who come regularly like your neighbors you can host them in the sitting room offering them tea with snacks. However, they are not qualified to be invited to sit at the dining table, unless accompanied by ladies who are friends of the ladies of your house, as per you manual perhaps. For some distant guests who you know come for plain time-pass, you can host them in the veranda and dismiss them with a cup of tea at the most.
Your special guests are always the dearest friends and the closest relatives whom you don’t even mind coming unannounced. You make them sit in the main room and give them first a welcome cup of tea. In the meantime, some of the guests may move around the house to meet your children and the ladies going to the kitchen to meet your wife. Then they are all invited to sit at the dining table for home-cooked snacks or meals, with tea or coffee.
Rare exception to such a manual could be some very old friends or distant relatives who turn up suddenly in a zeal find and reunite: some strangers coming unannounced on a reference or on a special job, and depending on the nature of your interaction some of them might qualify to sit at the dining table.
Supposing you yourself are staying at your relative’s place things may go a little wayward when guests visit and you get introduced to some of them, because you are naturally not very much aware of the guest-treatment manual adopted by that head of household. For example, you can take a case of mine. A guest, perhaps not-so-close-or-not-so-distant, visited my uncle’s house where I was staying for two nights. The head of the household seated him in the veranda, and some time later called for me for introduction as the guest was well versed in my professional field. The discussion was going on very fine when I had to go to the bedroom assigned to me to attend to an important call. As I came out and was crossing the kitchen my uncle’s daughter handed me a steaming cup of tea. I went to the veranda sipping the tea as I was eager to continue the discussion. My uncle looked up at me aghast and embarrassed. He said,
“Ah… ! So nice! You got your tea!”
It was my turn to get embarrassed as I side-glanced at the guest who, fortunately, was busy with his discourse or perhaps pretended not to notice anything.
I stormed inside and pulled up my niece for not entertaining the guest first. She smiled awkwardly and went back to the kitchen. Then realization hit me: yes, this particular guest is not qualified for a cup of tea. However, I felt quite bad and insisted on serving tea to him and uncle.