Why do we go out of our way to impress visitors?

Why do we behave this way? Why wait for guests to reward yourself and your family with the most sumptuous meals? 

What you need to know:

  • Convince me, for instance, that you don’t have sahani za wageni.
  • Or the delicate cups that you wrap in old newspaper to prevent chipping.

Sometime back, my son found me busy cutting up chicken, and with a straight face, asked, “Mummy, kwani wageni wanakuja?” He wanted to know whether we had visitors that day.

His innocent question caught me off-guard, and I paused, thinking back to all those times we’ve had chicken – what I realised startled me. Most of the times I have bought chicken, we had visitors coming over. I was taken aback that he had noticed this, and to tell you the truth, it made me feel a little embarrassed.

Chicken is much more expensive than beef, where I live, one costs 500 shillings — and that is minus the gizzard and neck. I have searched high and low, but I am yet to find cheaper chicken around here.
Now, it is a different matter with beef. A kilo now costs 500 shillings, and we get to eat it on two occasions, which would explain why we don’t often eat chicken. Still, why wait for guests to reward myself and my family with it? 

My son’s question got me thinking about the many other ‘luxuries’ we tend to deny ourselves, yet when entertaining visitors, we ensure that we have them in abundance, cost the last thing on our minds.

Convince me, for instance, that you don’t have sahani za wageni, those pretty and expensive plates you gingerly get out of the cupboard only when visitors come calling. Or the delicate cups that you wrap in old newspaper to prevent chipping. Some of you even have special spoons for visitors.

Growing up, we had particular seat covers which we brought out when we had visitors coming over.
Immediately they left, we would take them off, wash them, and return them on that high shelve for safe-keeping. There was also a time when we only got to eat chapatis on special days such as holidays, and of course, when entertaining visitors.

Once, I was visiting a friend when I heard her admonish her children for drinking the “visitors juice” instead of the “other one”. The visitors’ juice turned out to be one of those varieties packed in carton boxes which declare that the contents are “100 percent real juice”.

As you have already guessed, the “other one” was a cheap squash — coloured water and heaps of sugar. Pray, why would you readily give your children dyed sweetened water, and then merrily serve your guests “real” juice?

Anyway, that aside, I have been guilty of suddenly noticing cobwebs that have been hanging in a certain corner of the living room for ages when a friend calls to say that she will visit the next day. That is also the day that the toilet and sink will get a super vigorous scrub.

Why do we behave this way? Why do we go out of our way to impress others, yet when they are not around, we behave in an entirely different way? Is it a socialisation thing, or is it because we know from experience just how mean people can be with their criticism?

Some time back, somebody complained to me about how a mutual friend once served her plain rice when she went to visit. What pained her even more was the fact that when this rice-serving friend visited her, she had put her culinary skills to the test, laying out a feast fit for a king.

The rice incident took place about two years ago, but this friend is still smarting from the memory.
This Sunday onwards, treat yourself and your family the same way you would your visitors.

The writer is editor, Society & Magazines, Daily Nation; [email protected]