My Weekend of Hosting an International Visitor
by Dr. Liz Alexander
You may have found that, as you travel the world, some countries draw you in more than others. India is one such place for me. Some years ago I began offering my services as consulting co-author, speaker and educator in the Indian cities of Bangalore, Chennai, and Pune, and was honored and delighted to stay with Indian friends in their homes. Only recently have I had a chance to reciprocate, when Ms. Sarada Ramani, founder and president of Chennai-based Computers International (CI), accepted an invitation to visit me in Austin, while on a business trip to the U.S.
Sarada and I initially met on Skype when she agreed to be interviewed for Sharon’s forthcoming book Access to Asia. I then visited her office, met the CI team and enjoyed a leisurely lunch with Sarada during my stay in Chennai last November.
While it may not always be practical, or desirable, to invite an international visitor to your home, there are still steps you can take to help enhance the trusting, mutually-respectful relationships on which today’s global business depends and I have addressed those aspects of hosting in this guest blog:
The airport welcome
Most lone female business travelers will tell you that we’re concerned about our safety when arriving in a strange city and left to navigate taxis or shuttles to unknown destinations. Since her flight didn’t arrive until after 10pm, I insisted on meeting Sarada at the airport. This is not only reassuring to female visitors, but also to their families thousands of miles away, knowing they will be met by a friendly face. As Sarada confided later, a hotel is not going to care whether you check into your room or not. My welcome at the airport, Sarada said, went a long way to cementing the bond she already had with me.
Knowing how fond Indians are of giving gifts, I was not surprised to receive from Sarada several beautiful items, including a stunning necklace and earrings set from India. When we discussed gift-giving practices later, she stressed that to Indians this is not an obligation but an act of love. She had bought these gifts with me specifically in mind. Having heard Sarada speak about her young grandchildren (currently living in Maryland) several times during our three days together, I bought a book for each that I handed to Sarada before her departure. As another Asian professional told us while interviewing him for Access to Asia, buying thoughtful, appropriate gifts for other members of a businessperson’s family is often much appreciated.
Food and dining
I was already aware that Sarada was vegetarian. As well as having fun cooking together during the weekend, visiting the local Farmer’s Market and Indian grocery store for ingredients, I took Sarada to several highly recommended vegetarian/vegan restaurants at which no alcohol was served. As my guest this time, I insisted on paying for all meals. This is an area of etiquette that requires flexibility and sensitivity. Oftentimes I have hosted Indian males for lunch or dinner and they have absolutely insisted on paying the bill. On those occasions I simply thanked them and accepted—as Sarada graciously did with me.
There is no greater compliment than to hear my Indian friends refer to me as “family.” If there was one thing I learned from working on the India chapter of Access to Asia with Sharon, it was how inseparable the concepts of business and family are in that culture. Sarada and I agreed that there is nothing like showing someone your whole self, in the home environment, for demonstrating openness and trust in that relationship. It was especially heartwarming, then, to receive a follow-up email in which Sarada thanked me for “… opening your heart, for hosting me and taking care of me like your own family.”
How do you welcome international visitors and what might you choose to do differently in future?