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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Welcome Drink

What's so special about the welcome drink? What does it really mean? I recently wrote about welcome drinks on Grantourismo: "Immediately after your arrival at a hotel in Thailand – after you’ve been greeted with a “sawadee-kaa” from all the hotel staff accompanied by the traditional ‘wai’ gesture (hands shaped as if ready for prayer) – you’re ushered to a comfy seat and offered an icy cold face towel, usually scented with aromatic lemongrass, along with a welcome drink. While the icy face towels are particularly welcomed in Thailand’s sultry heat, it’s the welcome drinks we really enjoyed. We love the variety, from the Four Season Koh Samui’s frothy pink cocktail of guava, mango juice and sparkling ginger ale, to the Muang Kulaypan’s whole coconut filled with fresh sweet coconut juice (pictured)..." So what is it really about welcome drinks that we love? Apart from how refreshing they might be? Do we really place that much importance on them? Would we really care if we weren't offered one? And what do they mean? They're a gesture of hospitality, it goes without saying. And hotels are in the business of 'tourism and hospitality' so it's a gesture we should expect. Then why are we so delighted to be handed a glass of water and damp face cloth? Is it because someone has shown us that they care? Some cultures place more emphasis on these gestures of goodwill than others. We've lived in the Middle East for ten years and everything that's said about Arab hospitality is true. You can't enter a carpet shop in Dubai, Cairo, Damascus, or Marrakesh without being offered tea. Water is brought automatically without asking. It goes without saying you can expect the same in most shops and businesses, in banks even, and, naturally, in people's (even stranger's) homes. Is it that in 'the West' we appreciate the hotel welcome drink so much more because these gestures of hospitality are missing from our everyday life?


Anonymous said...

next time, when you drink coconut juice, ask for a slice of lime or lemon, and a pinch of salt (more or less depends on your taste), then add the salt and squeeze the lime. The mixture of sweet, saltiness, and the smell of lemon will enhance the taste (at least for me)

Anonymous said...

I have to agree about Arab hospitality. My husband and I have both lived and traveled in that region before. We've always been treated with what would only be seen as exceptional generosity warmth back home. Yet, it is seen as normal in that part of the world. Some amazing people there, for sure.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Myscha - thanks for this comment - it reminded me I must try Viet's suggestion above! - yes, I agree with you. I've been 'based' in the UAE for 10 years (although we've spent 2 years on the road) and so I can say I've enjoyed a lot of Arab hospitality. They're wonderful people and think nothing of giving gifts. I worked at a women's university for years and every morning for a couple of years there this one student would arrive with a giant box of zaatar croissants for all the faculty and other students. If it was a birthday, there'd be a gift. If someone was buying lunch, she'd buy it for all. Visit their home and you're simply overwhelmed by the food spread out. And the wonderful thing is that they extend that into the tourism sector so in every hotel lobby there's always somebody offering a tray of dates and a pot of coffee!