chambre d'amis

Sunflowers (c) Kristin Espinasse
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One meaning of "host" is "lord of strangers". How's that for mystique? As well, hosting another person is considered, by some, as mystical, even sacred! And guests, in some parts of the world, are considered gods (or angels), who have been sent with messages. That ought to teach us to see visitors in a new light!

How do you feel about hospitality? Are you a thoughtful or absent-minded host? Is hosting something you look forward to or shy away from? Why? What are your best tips for welcoming a guest to your home? Do you offer friends a fold-out couch, or chambre d'amis? Or do you give up your own bed for a weary traveler? For how many days is a guest welcome to stay, chez vous? And what about offering a room to a complete stranger? Thank you for sharing your thoughts, here, in the comments box. Now for today's word:

la chambre d'amis

    : guest room, spare room

A favorite quote written (in English) on the wall of a favorite bookstore in Paris, Shakespeare & Company:

Ne négligez pas de pratiquer l'hospitalité. Car plusieurs, en l'exerçant, ont accueilli des anges sans le savoir. Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.

Thank you, George Christian, for pointing out that the original quote is from St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 13, verse 2:

    Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
    for by doing that some have entertained angels
    without knowing it.

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Lord of Strangers

When a friend offered a room for us to stay in, on Saturday, her son's wedding night, I wondered if my husband had not dropped a hint first.

"Are you sure you didn't say anything? You didn't tell Anne-Marie we were having difficulty finding lodging nearby?"
"No," Jean-Marc insisted. "I think she has reserved rooms for many of the wedding guests."

This was another concern, and so I voiced it: "But the groom's mother has other things to do than to worry about where we will stay! We can't trouble her with this detail!"

"Don't worry! I think Anne-Marie has rented a grange next-door, and we will be in a studio there."

My mind immediately conjured up a B&B, or a kind of rural gîte, and I pictured several chambre d'hôtes. I began warming to the idea of accepting another's kind offer. This was, after all, la campagne, and there were, beside vineyards, many old farmhouses that doubled as hotels. As long as we wouldn't be putting anybody out... and as long as we wouldn't be staying chez elle, with Anne-Marie, where there must be enough activity already, what with the wedding preparations.

When Jean-Marc and I drove up to the neighbor's lodge to get a key to our room, I noticed we were entering some sort of equestrian park. There were a few beautifully manicured arenas and neat stables at the top of the drive, beside a newly planted oliveraie. I figured that the owners had two businesses: rooms for rent and horse riding lessons. Speaking of the owners, there they were now, walking toward the car to greet us, along with three barking dogs (two Jack Russells and an épagneul).

The couple was striking; the woman might have been a sosie of Katharine Hepburn and, from her energetic manner, she seemed to share the same character. I watched as she signaled, briskly, for us to pull up closer to the garden gate. We rolled down the window in order to hear her instructions. "A little closer. There you are. Just mind the dogs (she pointed to the small Jack Russells), who have a tendency to slip under the tires!"

Jean-Marc got out and shook the our hosts' hands. I waited in the car, figuring that the lodge owners must have received many of the wedding guests by now. We would simply collect our key to the studio and be on our way to the wedding dinner.

When the greeting lingered I realized I needed to get out of the car and say hello."Why don't you have a look at the room?" the couple offered.

Jean-Marc and I collected our bags and followed the woman up a dirt path, onto a small patio, and into what seemed to be a private home. We passed by the kitchen, and walked through an informal living room. Gesturing toward the hallway, our hostess pointed out the home's private quarters: "This is where we stay," she said, referring to herself and her husband. On the way down the stairs, she warned us to "mind the bannister," which was wobbly.

On the lower level, the tour continued. "And this is the buanderie," she said, pointing to the closed door beside our room. I appreciated her taking the time to reveal this room, as I might have wondered, through the night, just who or what was behind that door. 

"And here is your bathroom." Again, more rooms were thoughtfully pointed out, so that we were familiar with our surroundings. This is when it occurred to me that we were the only people she was lodging. What Jean-Marc had guessed to be a many-roomed B&B was really one room in a private home. We had been in similar one-room-only B&B's, though I had never travelled through so many private spaces to get to the chambre d'hôte....

Once in our room we were given a few tips: "There are mosquito nets on the bathroom window, feel free to leave it open for some fresh air. Help yourself to the shampoo... and there are fresh towels and gants. I heard the concern in our hostesse's voice. It was clear that she wished us comfort. "Beware! In the morning, this one (here she pointed at one of the Jack Russells) might run in and pounce on your bed! The little Jack Russell's antics broke the ice and we felt more at home than ever.

"Is there anything else you might need? How about an extra pillow?"

"Oh, no, thank you! This is just perfect!" I thought to tell her that we would be back very late. Given that this was a French wedding, chances were we'd return in the early morning hours. 

"Pas de souci. I will be here, in my bathrobe," she chuckled, "to let you in". With that, our hostess offered another welcoming smile. "Don't worry, I will hear you -- the dogs are sure to bark. Oh, and sleep as late as you like. And when you wake up you might like to go for a swim," she said, pointing out the pool area.

True to her word our hostess greeted us at 2 a.m., our presence being announced by a trio of yapping dogs.

"Hey-oh! Taisez-vous!" she warned the dogs and she guided us to the front porch, lest we miss a step in the dark night. Passing by the kitchen, she reached for a bottle of cold water for us and, at the top of the stairs, she wished us a good rest. I hoped she had had a little rest of her own, but imagined she must have waited up for us.

Several hours later we awoke to the screeching of cicadas and the early morning heat of summertime. The bright sun filtered into the room from an opening along the sage green shutters. I could hear commands out in the garden and wondered if the hostess was taking care of the animals.

We appreciated all of the items left for us in the bathroom--including a comb!--for we had forgotten our trousses de toilette. And we were careful to share one towel, not wanting to trouble our hostess with more washing, after the sheets that she'd need to change from one nuitée.

At breakfast, in the cozy kitchen-living room area, we were joined by our hosts, who I imagined had been waiting dans les parages, or in the wings, for us. Over coffee, croissants, and fresh peaches from their verger, I learned a little more about this gracious couple. Horses are their passion, not their business. The beautiful stables and arena are for their pleasure, which they take on the weekend after a hectic week in the city, where each is kept busy Monday through Friday with a demanding work schedule.

I realized, then, that this couple had only their weekends to enjoy their horses and to care for their property. We didn't want to take any more of their time, and so we finished our coffees, savored a little bit more enriching conversation, and returned to "business mode" -- by asking for l'addition.

"But you owe us nothing!" the woman assured us. And, on seeing our hesitation, she clarified, "I am doing a favor for my friend," she said, referring back to the groom's mother, "by offering a room for someone in need."

It finally dawned on me that Jean-Marc and I were the strangers in need...

Suddenly another's generosity and humility deeply touched me. I thought about all the little comforts the couple had thoughtfully provided us, right down to the earplugs and the eye-mask on the nightstand! How their morning had been interrupted, so as to be present when we woke up, not knowing whether that would be at nine or at noon! In my mind's eye I saw the couple rushing home from work to get the room in order and to make sure there would be something for breakfast.

Jean-Marc was equally touched. "But, we don't even have a bottle of wine with which to thank you!" he said. 

"It is our pleasure!" our hostess assured us. And, just in case we were feeling indebted, she offered: "It is a honor to help another in need. I am sure you would do the very same."

These words echoed in my mind as we drove off, in a cloud of gratitude, touched by the kindness of strangers, who we risked never to see again. We were left with only a lesson: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Could it be that simple? These "others" sure made it seem so.


Post note: I doubt our hôtes are reading, but just in case: MERCI BEAUCOUP!!!

Le Coin Commentaires

The meaning of "host" can be read, according to Wikipedia, as "lord of strangers". What does hospitality mean to you? Is it your strength or weakness? What are your best tips for welcoming a guest to your home? Do you have a guest room, or chambre d'amis? Or do you give up your own bed for your guests. Will you be hosting over-nighters this summer? What about offering a room to a complete stranger, as our gracious hosts did? Comments are welcome here, in the comments box.

French Vocabulary

une grange = a barn (sometime re-structed into living quarters)

le gîte = self-catering cottage

la chambre d'hôte = room in a B&B

le gant de toilette = wash cloth

taisez-vous! =quiet down!

la campagne = country

une oliveraie = olive grove

un épagneul,e = spaniel

le sosie = one's double

la buanderie = laundry room

la trousse de toilette = makeup bag, travelling necessities case

la nuitée = (tourism) night (ex: deux nuitées = two night's stay in hotel)

le verger = orchard

l'addition = the bill


Mama Braise, teaching three of her six pups a lesson in hospitality: "There is always room for another!" Mama Braise says. "And, remember, warm affection not perfection!" Photo taken in 2009. Read some puppy stories!

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