Central Asian hospitality
Central Asian hospitality is a big deal. It's a beautiful part of the culture that sometimes frustrates us task-driven people who don't have time to sit and drink tea at the landlord’s when we're just dropping off the rent on the way to do something else.
Hospitality is so engrained that it is rude to ask someone if they would like tea when they arrive at your house. Rather, you say, "Let's drink tea" and start boiling the kettle and getting the eats, and only when they refuse at least 3 or 4 times do you stop.
Tea is never just a mug of something hot and a few cookies on a plate; it is a "let's see if we can fill up the table with as many bowls / plates of cookies, fruit, nuts, bread, chocolates etc. that I can possibly find in my kitchen" ordeal.
In this culture, there are many unwritten and unspoken "rules" that go along with hospitality (e.g. you must always put out an even number of bread, but you must always have an odd number of flowers in your vase, except for funerals when the number must be even). The amount of tea that you pour into your visitor's cup indicates to them if you would like them to stay for a while or if they must hurry up and drink and leave. If someone brings you food, you never return their plate empty.
I find these rules intimidating. I've often had to fight the urge to just withdraw in case I make mistakes.
It took me a whole week to return my neighbour's plate because I was scared that I would put the wrong things on it. After consulting with 2 or 3 friends, I eventually decided to put an odd number of cookies and a few chocolates on the plate and I gingerly knocked on the door (taking one of my kids with me for moral support, of course). My neighbour's smile when he took the plate showed me I had passed that self-imposed test.
I'm so scared of failure and of offending someone, that some days, it's easier just to hide away and pretend I'm not home. There's a danger that my desire to perform well will quench my desire to live a life that shows God's love and compassion to my neighbours.
It's a real, constant prayer that I would be genuine and authentic and spend time with people despite the fact that I know I'm going to make many, many cultural mistakes.
"So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God." 1 Cor. 11: 31