[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

Tips before you host visitors from developing world

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

This summer my parents came to the US to stay with us and to tour the places around. Having lived all their life in a second tier city in South India, everything in the US was so different, often puzzling, sometimes even embarrassing from them. Many days we would chat at length about why things are done a certain way in the US – and how it’s good or bad from the perspectives you have. As an example, we eat refrigerated food over a period of few days, but that made my parents uncomfortable. They haven’t had the luxury of a fridge for most of their Indian-lower-middle-class life so they don’t embrace it, while we can’t appreciate enough how convenient it is to cook for the whole week, when both of us work 8-6.

The above experience is probably common for many visitors to the US from developing and third world countries. For someone who is hosting the visitors, It would perhaps help to know a list of things to prepare the visitors before or at the beginning of their visit. So here are the few things that the hosts can discuss with visitors at the outset – which helps them settle down quickly and enjoy this great country they always dream of visiting.

Basic English Words & Phrases – Most visitors probably speak some level of English but it would greatly help to ensure they know few words that would come handy – when they meet your neighbors or when the waitress at the Diner takes an order. We could write a whole page of words but here are a few: “Hello, How are you?”, “Good Morning”, Thanks, Restroom, Phone, Dollar/Cents, Need help, Vegetarian, Water, Coffee, Bread etc.

Simple Etiquette – Smiling at strangers, saying “Hi, How are you?”, responding with “Thanks”, Holding the doors for others, Staying to right when walking, Talking mildly in public, Avoiding body odor through perfumes, Wearing a shoe/light clothing when taking a long walk, Basic usage of spoon and fork when eating in public, Being respectful of others space, property.


Using the western toilets, bathrooms & bathtubs – For visitors who have never used western toilets – this is a very touchy feely issue – which they eventually figure out and live with. However, it would help them if the host could guide them in how to use toilet paper, how to flush, how to use soap dispenser, hot water tap vs. cold water tap, how to use the shower curtains (haven’t you had a visitor leave the shower curtain outside the tub only to step out in a soaked up floor?) and shower knobs etc. While I am on this topic, if you are planning a backpack trip to India – you should definitely check out ‘How to use Indian Toilets’.

Trash & Recycle – It’s important for them to know how we collect trash and recycle. They may not be used to level of discipline we have in the US from grinding garbage in the kitchen sinks to splitting garbage and recycle bins. Its better to explain than be surprised when something stinks around the kitchen.

For Vegetarians, Get used to eating Cheese Pizza, Pasta and Salad – They will probably cringe at eating Pizza or Salad for lunch, when they are used to sumptuous multi-course meals back home. But if the visitors want to tour US at any length, they will come to appreciate the Pizza quickly. My parents now love Pizza – no surprises there.

Basic Utilities – If the hosts are working couple, the visitors would be bored to death within three days – take my word for it. So getting to use few things around the house will go a long way in making them enjoy their time during the day. Kitchen appliances – range/stove, microwave, knives, cutters etc, TV & Cable/Satellite remotes, Phone (how to call you and 911), Door Bells/Security Alarms, Treadmill or Static Bike (if you have it), Walking trails around the house and of course, leave them your home address and emergency contacts.

I am sure there are more. Some might feel this is too much taking out the opportunity for the visitors to figure all this out themselves. I would prefer to tell them exactly how to use the gas stove than to hear the carbon monoxide alarm go bonkers. It would take about 15 minutes to go through this with your visitors and everyone will feel thankful in the end.

If you have hosted visitors from countries far out and away in culture and development from the US, What else would you add to this?