#digciz Blog Posts

Guests and Strangers

Image: by Luke Lai https://flic.kr/p/ppgvnY

I really love the prompt from Maha and Kate in week 3 of the #digciz June 2017 convos about hospitality and feeling at home. Why and how do we bring with us our ideas of hospitality, which may overlap and/or be different from those we are interacting with, into a space with those who may feel or not feel at home?

Having just moved, thoughts of feeling at home or not at home are very much with me in my physical space. Time is a big part of this in any environment. There are always those who have been there before you, different waves of people come and are in a space. Who is already there in that space, how long have they been there feeling at home or not? What relationships have already been formed and what forms of hospitality do they use (or not)? Has anyone been excluded? Can I add something, what? I think this respect or at least awareness of what is already happening in a space is an important piece.

As my partner Daniel and I look for a house to live in, one of our major considerations is about hosting. We want a space that is inviting and comfortable for others. We are two, but we have a large dining table because we enjoy having people over. We like to share the music we listen to with others when they come over, but we also like playing the things we think others know or we think they might appreciate. Hosting gives us a chance to become a part of the community. There are also questions of accessibility. We both have a parent who passed away recently (this is a relative term) and the thoughts of whether my 94 year old father would be comfortable visiting this house are in my head. That thought should be there, even without a specific person in mind. But that is a different post that is still coming about Domains 2017!

A synchronous conversation that Kate and Maha led drew my focus and attention from host to guest. What is a good guest? When Kate asked us to start with stories about hospitality the first one that popped in my head was a one of being a guest. I taught for three years at a university in Oman in a small city / town, Nizwa. The students mostly came from all the surrounding, much smaller, villages. Hospitality was very much valued, and a student inviting a teacher to their home was a very welcoming gesture. Most social events were geared around family, and in that way, the invitation to a foreigner was then a distinct form of hospitality.

My first invitation was from Maryam and it included an invitation for my husband as well, which almost seemed like a requirement [she told me that her father very much wanted to meet my husband]. I knew this was going to be a several hour affair (we were invited to lunch) and that we would be separated and having different experiences. For Daniel, he was walking into a three hour lunch with a group of men he had never met and who may or may not speak any English. For me, I had Maryam as both my host and translator and she took that role very seriously and with heart. I don’t remember a lot of what we talked about. What a good student Maryam was. What stays with me about this experience was the food. Lots and lots of food, and the custom of continuing to offer me more and telling me I should have more. There was goat, lots and lots of rice, and fried fish. I liked the fried fish best and that was recognized and offered more than the other foods. I did not want to be rude, so I kept accepting and eating. I didn’t know that if I left some on my plate, they would have stopped offering. I was operating on the fact that it was best not to waste food and it would be rude to leave some. When the dessert came out after a straight hour of constant eating, I felt I might literally explode. I nibbled on a piece of fruit and was a little more forceful (awkwardly so) about not wanting anything more to eat. They had no intention of making me feel uncomfortable, it was me who didn’t know the customs. I imagine that when I left, there was conversation about wow, that girl can eat.

As an introvert, this experience was exhausting. It took a lot of energy to listen, watch, and pay attention to my surroundings and my behavior within those surroundings. It was much harder than being a host, where I had the control of what was going to happen. But this experience allowed me a more private view into the culture I was living in. I got to see Maryam with her mother, aunt, sisters and cousins in their home, and that was special. That made me feel more at home.

So one idea I take away from this week’s #digciz chat is being the guest comes with its challenges and responsibilities. The other is hospitality for the stranger. What does that look like? How do we encounter it in physical spaces? When we talk about digital identity, part of the conversation is about signaling and having something to point to. When you have traces, people can know something about you before interacting with you, you become more human. But is this a requirement of the web? If we are talking about being good citizens or caring people within a place, shouldn’t that extend to strangers? If that is the norm, then wouldn’t that change behaviors and perceptions of online spaces?

Encountering strangers out of context makes me think about being on a plane. Even as an introvert, there is often some conversation started or acknowledgement of those sitting in your row. There is no need to introduce yourself by name, but rather ask about where you are coming from and where you are going. Or notice what that person is reading, watching, doing. This also comes back to the sync conversation and what was mentioned about private spaces or lack of private spaces. Roz suggested learning from cultures who are used to little privacy as a way of getting used to the noise and lack of privacy in online spaces. On a plane, especially in coach, we are very close to each other (often touching or brushing up against one another because of the small space) for a period of time in which we can’t really escape. And because it is physical, the instinct is to be courteous.

Can we use these experiences and our understanding of them to help us in online spaces? Can this idea of home and hospitality be used in our conversations about digital identity so that we are not starting from a position of me but rather us?

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