Anthony Bourdain’s lessons in hospitality

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I love to cook. I love to eat and drink. A relaxed, leisurely meal with good food, good wine and good friends, for me, is truly a touch of heaven. Around a table, plain or fancy, community is born. Lives are shared. Bonds are made. 

The death of Anthony Bourdain shocked and saddened me, as it shocked and saddened so many others. I have been a long time fan of both his books and his shows. 

I read his books with envy. Anthony wrote like I wish I could write. Witty. Smart. Honest. Raw. But, what I loved the most about the man, was his utter joy at sitting down to break bread with anyone and everyone. The mighty and the humble. He loved people, and it showed. He was as comfortable dining in Michelin restaurants as in the back alleys of Vietnam. 

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Anthony Bourdain was the antithesis to the current isolationism and xenophobia that is spreading around the world. He contrasted the image of the “ugly westerner” travelling in baseball cap, cargo shorts and Crocs, grumbling and complaining that “this isn’t how we do it at home”. 

“Why can’t everyone speak English?”

“This isn’t how pizza is supposed to taste.”

“Eww, this street food looks dirty. Wonder if there’s a McDonald’s nearby?”

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There are two sides to hospitality. Giving and receiving. 

Giving hospitality is often, by far, the easier of the two. When we invite others to our home, we are in control. We choose who is coming. We choose what to serve. We choose how we will spend our time. 

Receiving hospitality, from family and friends when we know what to expect and how to behave, is also easy. But…

How many of us would feel comfortable being welcomed into a completely foreign environment, not knowing the people, language, customs, culture or food?

You don’t have to travel miles to imagine such a situation. It could be a family down the street, or across town. For many of us, no matter how warm and welcoming the hosts, we still experience an  “uncomfortable hospitality”. We are out of our comfort zone. We fear newness, difference, and the unknown.

We are used to being in control, and having others form themselves into our image. Not the other way around. 

What Anthony Bourdain did on the micro level, had a much deeper meaning on the macro level. Sharing a bowl of soup with a street vendor in Thailand instantly builds bridges among cultures. Welcoming being welcomed by the “other”, and relishing that welcome, opens doors to dialogue and friendship.

Perhaps we depend too much on elite diplomats to forge peace in our world. Perhaps the answer lies in that most Christian of symbols. The most human of activities.

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A table. 

Sitting down with our sisters and brothers.

Breaking bread and raising a glass.

Sharing our stories, our joys and our fears.

Communion, in its deepest most human sense. 

The world has lost a great promotor of global table fellowship.  May he rest in peace. 

To be treated well in places where you don’t expect to be treated well, to find things in common with people you thought previously you had very, very little in common with, that can’t be a bad thing.

Anthony Bourdain

10 thoughts on “Anthony Bourdain’s lessons in hospitality

  1. Except for the sacramental meal within the Roman Catholic Church.
    “But we’re different”
    “Of course”

  2. One of our Marianist Brothers once called accepting an invitation when we feel most uncomfortable, ” radical hospitality.” May I have the courage and grace to be radical.

    • Right you are Joanne! I’m sure we’re thinking of the same Marianist brother. The concept really touched me when I first heard it, and has stayed with me these many years. “Radical” is the original-and better-term. Thanks!

  3. I think that if we were each to be truly open to others, then there would be far less division, hatred and war in the world. And, heaven knows, if here in the US, we were to truly choose to break bread wit those whom we perceive to be so different than we are, there would be far less rancor and division. I am not a fan of Bourdain, but if people were to learn that from him, that would, indeed, be marvelous.

    • I liked Bourdain and didn’t really understand why. Listening to colleagues respond to his death helped me understand and appreciate what he was all about. Another thing, we never know what “demons” another is coping with and how they affect what we see and hear.

  4. My dream was to be his assistant for a day in his constant search for the perfect bowl of noodles. For all his fame, he was humble. He was kind to strangers. He was honest, but not disrespectful. He knew how to have a conversation with anyone. He respected culture. That’s top.

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