Since crossing from China into Central Asia the hospitality has been something else. At times it seemed impossible to make contact with a local, ask for directions, or stop for a broken russian/farsi and mime chat without being invited to take tea or a meal at their home. If we had accepted every invite proferred, I think we’d still be crossing Kyrgyzstan.
Iran definitely ranks highest in the hospitality club. The Irani feeling an unquestionable duty to house and feed foriegners- in part due to an acute embaressment of their muppet duo; Khomeini and Ahmadinejad and their government’s tarnishing of Iran’s international image. Sometimes the lengths they went to seemed crazy to a reserved European- handing bags of oranges and nuts to us from passing cars at 30kmph on a three lane round-about for example. Or the guy with the scary eyes who followed us for 5 km, stopping every kilometre and trying to flag us down, scaring the bejaysus out of us in the process, eventually catching us at a tea break, stuffing $5 for lunch into our hand and then screaming off again with wheel spin and gravel shower. Sometimes the spontaneous hospitality was over-bearing though, like the guy in Tabriz who just sidled up to us and announced lets go to my house, then wouldn’t take no for and answer until we had to politely but firmly tell him to piss off we were busy.
Central Asian hospitality is more hands on, spontaneous, and in your face than the European variety, as hosts fulfill their pre-designated duty to their guest. Though, occasionally, it seemed that ticking the boxes of good host-age seemed more important than actually ensuring that we were content and comfortable. There were times when we wished that we’d camped instead of accepting an offer by an overbearing host who wouldn’t give us space or listen to what we really needed, instead doing his duty as a host and often subjecting us to lengthy impromptu photo shoots when we were wet, cold, hungry, tired, or all of the aforementioned, as neighbours gathered with their camera phones.
Inevitably there were crossed cultural lines at times, and I’m sure that we were bad guests also- particularly the time we were told we could sleep in a mosque, bedded down on what we later learned was the women’s side, and were woken up and kicked out at 5am by a group of irritated men, and wailing women who through the haze of sleepiness seemed like black shrouded chimeras.
I guess, a dutiful host is a lot more laissez faire in the west, though unfortunately, more scarce.
I think we crave space and privacy more, need to be left alone, and perhaps aren’t as good at communicating what we really want.