Guests from heaven – or hell?


Spring’s the time when you can expect house guests. Especially if YOU live in sunny Spain. And THEY live in cold Northern Europe. All this got me thinking about the lengths hosts go to in the kitchen and what guests might expect – in various parts of the world. In Arab culture, someone staying at your house can expect to be treated like a guest for the first three days but then they’re to be treated as family.

And if friends come over – not for dinner – you serve them the following in this order without asking if it’s what they want. Cold drink, tea with something baked. Then a selection of fruit (you must peel it, place it on a plate and hand it to your guests. It’s rude for them to peel it), nuts and melon, pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Finally, you must always finish with Arabic coffee. Parents nowadays think their offspring rude if they offer their friends just tea or coffee.



But be warned! The Arab culture of staying three days and becoming part of the family is not one universally shared. Italians have often quoted me a proverb of theirs: a guest is like a fish, after three days in the house it begins to stink! So, when in Rome

As for the guests, what can be expected of them? Again, it’s a cultural thing depending on where you are in the world. Don’t try to help with the washing-up after a dinner party in a Japanese household – it’s seen as plain rude. Generally doesn’t go down that well in France either – especially with the older generation.

There are websites too for hoteliers to vent their frustration with horror stories about guests from hell, one promising not just catharsis but also a “long-needed counterattack”. But we don’t want, as they say on Jerry Springer, to go there …

And a final bit of advice. If you have house guests, don’t serve anything that you haven’t cooked before. Otherwise it will all end in tears – the food equivalent of buying an outfit for a party on the day of the event. Oh, don’t tell me you lot do that too …?

Which reminds me. Last time someone I know had guests around, he served larks’ tongues, roasted peacocks and pan-fried dormouse. And they had the nerve to say they weren’t very hungry because they’d stopped off at McDonalds on the way. He vowed never again …


Nora Johnson’s novel, The De Clerambault Code ( available at Amazon. Profits to Cudeca. 



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