Author Topic: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US  (Read 2029 times)

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Oh Joy

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Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« on: February 12, 2013, 05:59:17 PM »
I'm a lifelong US Midwesterner, married to a man who moved here a handful of years ago.  His mother and brother are coming to meet me and our little ones.

I'm starting to prepare our home to be both comfortable and welcoming, especially for MIL (who is neither young nor spry, doesn't speak English and has never been to North America, while BIL is fluent in English and has visited here). 

I'm comfortable with all of the generic preparation...linens, space heater & fan in guest room, a NativeTongue/English dictionary, etc.  But can anyone think of anything specific to the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern region that I might not think to ask DH or he may have never noticed is expected of hosts?  For example, we're installing a bidet attachment to one of the toilets because we know she was uncomfortable at the idea of not having one.

Thanks so much to anyone with any insight!

kherbert05

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Re: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2013, 06:49:06 PM »
Weather - will they have clothing for the time of year they will be visiting? 


How is your home heated/cooled how is that different that where they live?




My relatives from PEI found ac blowing down on them to be very uncomfortable.
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doodlemor

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Re: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2013, 01:33:00 PM »
Sometimes people are particular about foods - especially breakfast.  Morning coffee is a big deal for many people, too.

Your DH probably knows what their food and meal preferences are, or could find out.

Danika

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Re: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2013, 05:26:22 AM »
I have family from the Middle East, and I'll try to mention a few things that might be culture shock.

-Some folks take their shoes off at the front door instead of wearing them in the house. Just know that they might feel comfortable doing that.

-With meals, they might not feel comfortable helping themselves even if you tell them to. You might want to leave out some snack items, chips, dips, vegetables, things that might not spoil if they're not refrigerated for a while, just for munching if they're hungry.

-They might not be comfortable with pets, especially large ones, like hyper dogs jumping on their laps, on the furniture, etc. Don't take it personally if they're totally freaked out by your pet gerbil, or they want your dog to stay in another room at all times.

-They're probably used to less processed foods, more fruits and veggies not cupcakes and stuff with a ton of preservatives.

cicero

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Re: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« Reply #4 on: February 14, 2013, 06:35:03 AM »
food in general is a biggie.

food tends to be spicier than in the US (or a different kind of spicy), with a lot of fresh herbs (like corainder, parsley, oregnao), garlic, peppers, and dried herbs (cumin, coriander, ginger, pepper, hot paprika, tumeric etc). depending on where they're from, they might find the sweeter cuisine in the states too sweet.

I agree with leaving out food, but you also may have to push it on them a bit. it can appear to be rude to *ask* for food, but *you* will be rude in their eyes if you don't offer (and then serve even if they say no ;D ). especially for things like coffee/tea, cold drinks, fruit.

coffee - again, depends where they're from - is usually coarsely ground and prepared strong and sweet, usually without milk. Tea is often served with fresh mint leaves. coffee and tea are usually served as a separate snack with cookies and/or fruit, not as part of a meal, though might be offered at the end of a meal. some people in the region are quite obsessive picky about drinking in clear or decorated glass glasses and not ceramic/mugs.

depending also on whether your MIL is a traditional woman or more modern - if she is traditional, then her whole "being" is tied up with her family, and she shows her love through cooking and cleaning. You  might want to let her cook a few of the meals.

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Dorrie78

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Re: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« Reply #5 on: February 14, 2013, 11:35:43 AM »
I think it is most important for you to talk to your husband about what you need to do. Did he move to the US from the Mediterranean? From your OP, it sounds like he is still a relatively new arrival. Ask him what surprised him and made him uncomfortable about the US and what you can do to address those surprises, if they need to be addressed.  I would definitely hope that his family would understand that cultures are different and not only be polite about it, but embrace you as being from a different culture.


VorFemme

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Re: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2013, 07:39:31 PM »
Spending time in the kitchen, learning to cook a few of your spouse's favorite meals is NOT going to be a bad idea.  Your DH will love the "taste of home" after his family goes back - and it will be a way to get to know your mother and or his sisters (or whoever is giving the cooking lessons) while out shopping for specialty ingredients or writing down recipes as they prepare things (because they are unlikely to use the same measuring tools that you are used to). 
Let sleeping dragons be.......morning breath......need I say more?

Danika

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Re: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2013, 08:12:31 PM »
OP, you sound like you're being super thoughtful and I think that's wonderful of you! And I think (you've probably already thought of this) that it'd be good to learn a few terms in their language like "welcome" and "good morning."

I'm borrowing trouble here and I hesitated to mention it, but not knowing your background, I'll bring it up. I was born and raised in the U.S. but I've seen a lot of culture clash in my parents' marriage because of their very different backgrounds. If your MIL and BIL are not used to the American culture, they will likely (not for sure, because I obviously don't  know them) have a more old-fashioned view of gender roles, depending on where they live - big city vs. small town.

And I don't know your marriage or how you breakdown the responsibilities. Just be prepared that there are some things that they might expect you to do that in the American culture, someone might assume the adult child should do, and not their spouse. For example, in past generations in the US, if one didn't get a thank you card for a wedding gift, the bride would automatically be seen as lacking in manners, even if the gift-giver had been a friend or relative of the groom. Nowadays, if a friend of the groom gives a couple a wedding gift, and there is no thank you note, depending on generation, the groom might be the one seen at fault. Likewise, if one visits a household where both spouses work full time jobs outside the home and one sees a lot of dust in the bathroom, one might say "Oh, the wife really isn't tidy" or one might think "some adult in this house needs to clean."

I don't know if your MIL and BIL will expect you to be the one who does all the cooking, and look down on you if you don't cook every meal and let your DH cook. I don't know if they'll give you strange looks if you shovel the snow from the driveway or mow the lawn. Just remember that you are in your own country. And it's fantastic that you are thinking of them and wanting to be welcoming! But that I've witnessed situations where a marriage is great, and then when the relatives arrive "from the old country" suddenly the spouse isn't as Americanized as they used to be and tries too hard to do things to please their family members and get their spouse to assimilate into the old country's culture. Be prepared to say "Well, we're in the U.S. And in my culture we do things differently." Especially with regard to your children.

My mother wasn't raised with rules like "no feeding honey to children under age 1" or "don't introduce too many allergens into a child's diet when they're very young" so even though she raised me in the U.S. and I am raising my kids here, she was often disregarding "modern Western stuff" that she didn't respect.

Please, let us know how it goes.

Oh Joy

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Re: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2013, 01:37:46 PM »
I appreciate the feedback so far!  DH is doing the best he can from memory and our, er, disjointed Skype conversations with the family.

I think just getting through the first few days, where MIL is exhausted and disoriented from travel, will be the bumpiest.  We're all approaching it with goodwill, but the fewer bumps the better! 

Danika, fortunately we already eat minimally processed foods, and sadly we're going to be putting my old dog down tomorrow, so we're in good shape there.  Thanks for the guidance about pushing the food.  For your second post (which was very thoughtful and not overstepping at all), it's...going to be interesting.  ;-)  DH has been working hard on prepping the concepts of car seats and and discipline and some of the other differences he thinks are big.  For the roles and the rest, we'll just roll with it.  The conversations will be between him and MIL and they tend to be extremely blunt in a way that would be uncomfortable in a family like mine...just hope he shares everything with me, knowing I'll still only have a hundred or so words in my vocabulary.

Cicero, I was hoping to hear from you!  We've been trying to get food & drink & spice requests, but haven't gotten much info.  MIL is planning on spending much of her time cooking for us (yay!), so I'll try to stock the house some and take her to the ethnic markets after a few days.  You've inspired me to try to find some seasonings in their more recognizable (whole or fresh) forms.  Intriguing about the drinkware - I have some that sound suitable and will offer first...great tip!

We've got two months to prepare still.  DH was able to sit with me last night to come up with some breakfast and snack foods that will be easy to have on hand and accessible, and will keep gleaning information as he can.  That one thing helped me feel a lot better.

Please keep posting your random thoughts; I'm quite grateful to have your experiences!



camlan

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Re: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2013, 02:55:40 PM »
You mentioned the Middle East. My sister-in-law is Turkish, which covers both the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

I've visited my brother and SIL in Turkey and for part of the time we stayed with her parents. Hospitality is a very big thing in their culture. Her mother pushed so much food on me that my brother had to step in and explain that I just couldn't eat that much. (Unlike my brother, who can eat his MIL's food all day long and still eat more.) They were very accommodating and very willing to overlook any little faux pas that I made.

Both my SIL and her mother think it's funny that I love Turkish cooking so much. To them, it's just food. To me, it's among the best food I've ever had. So they tolerate me following them around the kitchen, writing down recipes for things. They don't have written recipes. MIL taught my SIL. Her mother taught MIL. They learned to cook by cooking.

Also, if you want to learn the recipes, be prepared that they might not use standard measurements. SIL will tell me, "Take a coffee cup of milk." And she literally takes a coffee cup out of the cupboard and measures out the milk. So you have to be flexible and guesstimate a lot.

When my brother's MIL comes to the States, she cooks huge amounts of food and they freeze it. It makes MIL happy. It makes my brother happy. And SIL doesn't have to cook so much for a while, so it makes her happy, too.

They did get a space heater for MIL's bedroom, as she isn't as used to the cold. And extra blankets and such.

Their coffee and tea is much stronger than typical in the US and they drink it with what appears to me to be a ton of sugar. Five or six cubes of sugar in a small tea glass. Or they'll put the sugar cube in their mouth and drink the tea around that. Ask DH if you need to find sugar cubes or not.

If they are Muslim, they may not want their pictures taken. Ask your DH about that.

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, “I’m possible!” –Audrey Hepburn


cicero

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Re: Preparing for Mediterranean guests in the US
« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2013, 04:37:58 AM »


Cicero, I was hoping to hear from you!  We've been trying to get food & drink & spice requests, but haven't gotten much info. MIL is planning on spending much of her time cooking for us (yay!), so I'll try to stock the house some and take her to the ethnic markets after a few days.  You've inspired me to try to find some seasonings in their more recognizable (whole or fresh) forms.  Intriguing about the drinkware - I have some that sound suitable and will offer first...great tip!


I don't know which country they are coming from - there are different cuisines /styles/etc for different ethnicities. I would actually plan to take her shopping for food - it might be easier for her to go to a supermarket and find the things she is used to, than for her to come up with a list of what she needs. And depending where they are from, they will probably be in shock from the size of a typical US supermarket! also, don't forget farmer's markets and smaller places like TJ. she might actually enjoy it, and she might enjoying teaching you these things.

another thing i thought of - a lot of meals tend to have bread in them, more so than in the US. it is common here to have a meal that has salads, meat, rice, etc *and* bread. also - meals typically have mezze which are small bowls of fresh veg salads and cooked veg salads served cold, pickles, olives etc.

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