As I prepared to address a class of first-year hospitality management students from a local catering college here in Karachi who were on a visit to my hotel recently, I decided to ask at the beginning of the presentation if any of them really knew the true meaning of the word “hospitality” and its origins.
While waiting patiently for them to power down their mobile devices and to scribble down their individual answers on the slips of paper provided, I looked around the room and saw students from many regions of Pakistan and from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Nigeria and even a few from Eastern Europe. To my delight, I also spotted a few Pashtuns proudly wearing their traditional dress, as this was a casual day for them being a field-trip weekend.
After welcoming everyone, I asked the three Pashtun students to come and sit in the front row, as I had something very special to show to them — an invitation that seemed to make them excited and nervous at the same time.
I then began my presentation by repeating a question from my youngest son when visiting his grandfather in the hospital recently: “Dad, what is the difference between hospital and hospitality, as both sound similar, and both words have the same first eight letters?”
With some feelings of guilt and remorse, I recalled that I did not answer the rather interesting question satisfactorily, partly because I did not know the proper answer and because I was in a bit of a hurry, and later forgot about the question until the day of my presentation to this young group of hospitality leaders of the future.
I then asked each student to stand up and read out the answers, many of which were excellent, but none of them actually provided the answer I wanted to hear — an answer that would shock all of the students and, more importantly, make them all very proud of their heritage of hospitality.
I then took them to Google and typed in “hospitality,” then went to the Wikipedia link and its summary description of Hospitality and presented each of the various key components of the word, which to me best describes millions of hard-working and highly hospitable Pakistanis around the world.
The word hospitality derives from the Latin hospes, meaning “host,” “guest” or “stranger.” Hospes is formed from hostis, which means “stranger” or “enemy” (the latter being where terms like “hostile” are derived).
In the West today, hospitality is rarely a matter of protection and survival and is more associated with etiquette and entertainment. However, it still involves showing respect for one’s guests, providing for their needs and treating them as equals. Cultures and subcultures vary in the extent to which one is expected to show hospitality to strangers, as opposed to personal friends or members of one’s in-group.
Hospitality ethics is a discipline that studies this usage of hospitality.
Pakhtuns (Pashtuns in Pakistan)
The Pakhtun (Pashtun) people of South-Central Asia, predominant in all the provinces of Afghanistan and in some areas of Pakistan, have a strong code of hospitality. They are a people characterized by their use of an ancient set of ethics, the first principle of which is Milmastiya, or hospitality.
Melmastia: Melmastia is hospitality, which is the most significant part of the Pukhtoon’s social life. It is extended to guests and even to the enemy. The nature and lavishness of the hospitality depends upon the economical or financial status of the host. A poor Pukhtoon will serve his guest cups of tea and puts his house at the disposal of the guest and offers him a whole sheep. The nature of the food may vary from family to family, but the offer is full of faith and love. Dastarkhwan (often-hospitality) determines the social status and personality of the host. A person who is a guest, and is at the disposal of the host, is respected by all the villagers, and they all try to entertain the guest. It is a source of honor for the host if his guest is given due respect by the community members.
The general area of Pakhtunistan is also nicknamed The Land of Hospitality.
At that moment I paused the presentation to receive thunderous applause and to witness the shedding of a few tears from these very proud young Ambassadors of Hospitality, who suddenly realized that the very essence of hospitality, like them, was born in this rugged, bountiful land and that it was in their blood. And yes, the best is yet to come.