Category Archives: #america

Food and drink

Why Didn’t They Offer Me Food or Drink?

As an international visitor to the U.S., do you ever wonder, “Why didn’t my host offer me food or drink?” I think many Internationals find it astonishing (maybe even rude) when they visit an American home or business and aren’t offered food or drink. For these dear friends, let me say that many native-born Americans don’t grow up with your hospitality norms. I know that I grew up offering visitors a place to sit, but I wasn’t expected to offer a drink or snack.
I didn’t experience the “food and drink” type of hospitality until I met my first international friend. When I entered her home, I received a drink almost immediately and food quickly followed. I considered it a nice change, but not something that I expected.
After many years of walking alongside international students and families, I now know that serving food and drink to guests is the norm in many countries. In fact, some of my friends expect me to eat a complete meal while I’m at their house, with multiple servings. As an American, this takes some adjustment because our mealtimes aren’t always on the same schedule. If I eat lunch at home at 1 p.m., I may not be able to eat a whole meal again at 2 or 3 p.m.!
Nevertheless, I’ve grown to like my friends’ amazing hospitality, and I try to imitate them to the the best of my ability. Although I rarely cook a full meal when others come to my house, I offer a drink and snack. Of course, the snack may not be much if I’m unprepared, lol. Believer it or not, remembering to keep food around for guests isn’t an easy habit to develop if you didn’t grow up doing it.
Easy or not, hospitality centered around food and drink is fully biblical. Because of my international friends, I now understand my own Scriptures better. Stories like Abraham inviting the three strangers into his home (Genesis 18) and Martha’s frustration with Mary (Luke 10) are stories centered around hospitality. Even Jesus’ last time with the disciples before he died was centered around food and hospitality (John 13). I completely missed this aspect of the stories before becoming accustomed to abundant hospitality! 
Because of my background, I doubt that I’ll ever feel disrespected if someone forgets to offer me food or drink when I visit. However, I want those who visit our house to be glad they came and feel welcomed. For some, this means offering food and drink, and that’s terrific. It helps me practice my “abundant hospitality” skills.
Meet you at the door with a glass of water and some chips!
Photo by Vanderdecken, via Wikimedia Commons


When Did Thanksgiving Begin? It’s Complicated!

The first “Thanksgiving” was a 3-day harvest festival celebrated by the original English colonists in 1621. After enduring a terrible sea voyage, brutal winter, and multiple deadly diseases, the remaining colonists were thankful that they had survived! Indeed, they wouldn’t have survived a second year if the Wampanoag Indians, whom they invited to the festivities, had been unfriendly. Instead, these Native Americans taught the colonists how to grow corn, extract maple syrup, and, basically, survive in this “new world.” Sadly, the peaceful co-existence between the colonists and Native Americans only lasted one generation (which is a long story for another day).

Over time, various states held festivities and a few of the early presidents, including George Washington, proclaimed national thanksgivings. However, the national holiday we know as Thanksgiving didn’t exist until 200 years after the original one. And it came into existence because of a very determined woman who campaigned 36 years to make it happen!

In 1827 Sarah Josepha Hale, a well-known magazine editor, began petitioning politicians and writing articles to encourage adding Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In 1863, during the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln finally declared two holidays, one in August as a memorial to the Gettysburg Battle and one in November as a general giving of thanks.

Nevertheless, until 1941 the President of the U.S. determined the day to be honored as Thanksgiving each year. Customarily, the fourth Thursday of November was chosen, in keeping with Lincoln’s original November celebration. However, in 1939 F.D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to encourage more shopping (obviously, shopping and Thanksgiving were already closely linked). The American public had a fit over the change! Two years later, Congress passed a bill setting the fourth Thursday of November as the official day of American Thanksgiving.

Nowadays, Thanksgiving evolves around food, family and friends, football…and shopping! Although the foods and activities have greatly changed (watch the video below to see what I didn’t mention), it is still a time to give God thanks for all of our blessings and to enjoy the people that are dear to us. For those reasons, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite American holidays!


indian food

How Do You Define Hospitality?

Have you ever noticed that hospitality varies greatly from culture to culture? When I first made friends with people from other countries, I was surprised whenever they offered me food if I was only staying a short time. In fact, I frequently turned the food down because I was uncomfortable; it was so outside my norm! If I was hungry, I would eat after I left their house. I didn’t want to be rude by having them cook something for me.
It wasn’t until much, much later that I learned that sharing food was one of the ways that my friends expressed hospitality. In their homeland, you always offer food to a guest; not doing so is a sign of disrespect or poor hospitality. Whereas, when I was growing up, a guest was offered a drink, but food was only offered if the person was staying for a meal. Imagine the number of times that I unintentionally offended my friends by turning down food? Yikes! I’m so glad that they were kind enough to overlook this American’s bumbling behavior.
Since that time, I have noticed another key way that hospitality is demonstrated differently among my international friends. Many of my friends tell me to “come by anytime.” This is not something native-born Americans typically say! I’ve even tried to do it a couple of times. One time, I left the house determined to just show up at my friend’s door, but then I felt guilty for not telling them that I was coming so I stopped along the way and called! I just couldn’t bring myself to break the cultural habit of getting permission before arriving.
I’m not quite sure why my international friends feel more comfortable with the idea of spontaneous visits then I do, (and possibly many other native-born Americans). I think this type of spontaneity was more common at one time in our history. If so, I’m not sure why we stopped. Perhaps it’s because we stay so busy that we prefer to work (and visit) at scheduled times. Or it could be that we don’t like the idea of inconveniencing our friends or interrupting their privacy; spontaneous visits make us feel like we are doing both. Whatever the reason, it’s unlikely that an American friend will “come by anytime” even if you extend the offer multiple times.
What does this mean for your friendship with Americans? Well, it definitely does not mean Americans are rejecting you. When you offer food, consider telling your friend how sharing food demonstrates hospitality in your country (or let them know that offering food is something you enjoy doing). If you want an American to visit your house, set a day and time with them. They’ll feel more comfortable, and you’ll still get to visit. Since cross-cultural friendships involve exploration and lots of grace, consider hospitality one of the areas where you’ll constantly be learning and growing with your American friends!

Do YOU Understand Tipping?

Tipping in the U.S. can be confusing! This is especially true if you come from a country where tipping is discouraged or where a set service charge is normal. Oh, who am I kidding? Tipping in the U.S. confuses us all!

Here are just a few examples of how crazy it is! I go to a restaurant that is buffet style (meaning that I get my own food from a counter). However, a waitress brings my drinks and cleans my table when I leave. Do I tip her?

Or, I go to a restaurant and receive mediocre service. When I was growing up, poor service meant no tip! Now, tips are almost mandated so I think to myself, “Do I tip the waiter 15% because that’s the standard? Do I tip 10% to let him know that the service wasn’t good? Or do I tip 20% because I know he’s dependent upon this income and I want to be generous?” Decisions, decisions.

Or, what about the tip jar that has shown up almost everywhere! You find them at coffeehouses, pet groomers, ice cream shops, and even fast food joints (although they’re often used as charitable donations there). Our tipping frenzy has gotten out of control!

I don’t know about you, but I walk away from many of these instances feeling: 1) guilty (because I “should” have given more); 2) self-righteous (because I gave more than “deserved”); or 3) downright cheated (because, after all, what am I paying the company for if it isn’t for the service?). No matter what I do, the whole tipping thing never feels right! So, why do I do it? Why do Americans leave tips?!

Sadly, tipping is currently an integral part of our economic system. In fact, over 3% of our workforce is dependent (yes, dependent) on tips. Service workers often make less than minimum wage because their employers expect them to receive tips. Legally, an employer can pay a worker just $2.13/hour if the worker accepts tips. Although many consider this unethical, tipping will remain an expected part of receiving certain services as long as the law allows employers to underpay their employees.

So, to answer the question, Americans tip because we know that many of the people providing services NEED us to tip. The confusion comes in the wide variety of services we now receive plus our ignorance about who is underpaid and who isn’t. For instance, does the employer of the person scooping my ice cream REALLY expect me to tip them for doing their job?! I truly hope not because I haven’t succumbed to the social pressure to tip this person yet.
Sheala Vastbinder - TipsNow that you know why to tip, here’s an infographic from MintLife that tells you what to tip for specific services. Welcome to the wacky world of tipping in the U.S.! See you in the coffee line.

Photo by He Who Would Be Lost.

How Do You Define Friendliness?

A man that hath friends must show himself friendly (Proverbs 18:24)

I don’t know any culture where friendliness isn’t expected of friends, do you?! The ancient Scriptures speak today’s truth with that proverb. Not many people tolerate friends who are always unfriendly, rude, or abusive. I tell my son all the time that he has to treat his friends well if he wants to have friends! That seems like a truth worth embracing.

But what happens when your friends (or coworkers or family members) come from different cultures? All of a sudden, friendliness becomes more complicated because it doesn’t look the same everywhere. (You do know that, right? If not, let me be the first to tell you that people show friendliness in different ways!)

I was reading a really good blog by Gayle Cotton about Saudi Arabian culture (here’s the link if you’re interested). In the blog, Gayle points out how Saudi’s feel comfortable standing very close to one another. It reminded me of times when I have been around internationals who stood close to me and it felt TOO friendly! Then again, I feel comfortable asking my international friends about their family, including their wives or mothers. This same blog notes that it is unacceptable in Saudi Arabian culture to ask after the women of the family. So,  my friendly questions would actually be rude to them. This just goes to show that how we define friendliness matters, and understanding how other people define what it means to be friendly impacts how we connect with them.

With this in mind, I’ve put together some questions that are good conversation starters in American culture. They are written specifically for internationals who want to build or strengthen their American connections.


  • Where did you grow up as a child?
  • How long have you lived here?
  • What is your best memory from growing up?
  • Where do your parents live? What do they do?
  • Do you have siblings? Tell me about them.


  • What do you do for a living? What all is involved in that type of work?
  • What did you study in school? (If in school, “What are you studying in school?”)
  • What do you like the most about your work or school?

Favorite Things

  • What foods do you enjoy?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What one new hobby would you enjoy learning?
  • Do you enjoy traveling? If so, where have you been?
  • If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?

If you’d like more tips on developing American friendships, check out my blog, How Do I Make American Friends? Otherwise, go forth and “show yourself friendly,” but make sure the other person defines friendliness in the way that you are showing it!

Photo by Don LaVange