Not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall in ’91, I traveled as a journalist to a region near the former Yugoslavian border of Albania. In many of the remote, mountainous villages to which I traveled, I was the first foreigner seen by locals since the Germans of WWII.
As I explored the region, one of the impressions I had about the people was that they were unconditionally hospitable. They treated this stranger, this foreigner, as an esteemed guest, preparing generous meals for me, despite not having a lot themselves.
One village had only three sheep, and they killed one of them to serve me, though I attempted to discourage such a sacrifice on my account.
Hospitality exceeding no bounds was their cultural norm.
Not only did this manifest in the meals they served, but also in the accommodation. In each house, there was a guest room, fitted with a bed to welcome visitors at any time.
While this region isn’t alone in this cultural norm, as I’ve been so graciously treated with such hospitality in other parts of the world as well, one conclusion that I’ve come to in my travels is this:
Hospitality is best wherever there is no telephone.
Lack of Connection Improves Quality of Connection
People often arrive unannounced to places with no telephone. This may be one reason cultural norms require those who live in remote places to be prepared to accommodate at any time.
The pop-in is inevitable (Seinfeld would hate to be a member of these cultures). Hosts must provide guests a place to stay and a bite to eat last-minute because they have nowhere else to go. And these hosts are more than happy to.
In such open-door cultures, active hospitality – and lavish hospitality, at that – is adopted and valued.
Ethnocentricity’s Bias in the Reverse
Last week, we talked about ethnocentricity: the innate bias we have about our culture being “right” and another being “wrong” and evaluating cultures according to our own values.
My personal example is one case in which ethnocentricity’s bias might work in the reverse.
Sometimes, we see other’s values and norms as more “right” than our own. This may be one of those cases.
Most Westerners would never think to invite themselves over to a neighbor’s home, nor would they expect to accommodate a stranger. Even showing up on an acquaintance’s doorstep without a moment’s notice would be questionable.
Some Westerners might even choose to stay at a hotel rather than with family or friends when they’re visiting. Not only because they don’t want to impose on another’s space, but likely because they’d prefer their own space and privacy.
But most Westerners would surely see the value in such open-door hospitality. It’s universally a beautiful thing.
In Albania – and in other world regions that are less connected – there is no imposition and space is not valued as it is in the West. It would be a dishonor to the people if you rejected their hospitality.
Ethnocentricity in Albania
As I’ve highlighted, hospitality is a deeply entrenched value in these regions.
With that bit of background in mind, imagine Albanian researchers studying cross-cultural differences.
The researchers, no doubt, would consider the hospitality-index as an important cultural categorization.
Generosity and accommodation are the glue that holds society together in their minds, allowing communal ties and free travel.
Should they research other country’s hospitality norms and values, they would find other’s hospitality doesn’t meet the same standard as theirs.
They might see that in some countries unconditional hospitality is restricted to those one knows well. Strangers can find somewhere else to eat and sleep.
In other countries, only family members are provided with hospitality.
And in some, forget it. You have to find your own accommodation.
During their research, the Albanians might then conclude that their own country is on the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to the hospitality index. And they would view this as a positive thing, as their values are validated.
This is just one example of how ethnocentrism might influence research. It comes naturally to most. Even professional researchers and experts in the field, no matter how objective they attempt to be, will inevitably reveal their own values when evaluating other cultures.