Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools - Culture Matters

Rules of the House:
Interacting With a Host Family

Almost all PCVs form a close relationship with at least one host country family during their service. In this exercise, you consider some of the basics of living or being a guest in the host family's home. You have all been guests in people's homes before, but when you cross cultures, the rules may be different.

Below is a checklist of rules, divided into categories. However you can do so, find out about all the items listed below. Because some rules are gender and age based, try to talk to someone of your own sex and age and observe this person's behavior.

1. BATHROOM ETIQUETTE

  • How much time is it appropriate to spend in the bathroom in the morning when everyone is getting ready for the day?
  • Are you supposed to lock the door when you're in the bathroom?
  • How often is it appropriate to bathe?
  • Which bathroom items are considered personal and which can be used by anyone?
  • How clean are you supposed to leave the bathroom after bathing?
  • What do you do with a dirty towel?
  • Should you never do some things in the bathroom but in some other place that has a sink or running water?
  • In the morning, do certain people always use the bathroom before others?

Think of any other rules of the bathroom you would tell a person from another country who was going to be a guest in your house back home. Do you need to find out about any of these rules here?

2. EATING ETIQUETTE

  • Is anything expected of you in getting the meal on the table?
  • Where do you sit? Do you choose a place or wait to be told?
  • Does a serving order exist?
  • How much food should you take or accept when you're being served?
  • When is it okay to start eating?
  • What is the etiquette for getting a second helping?
  • Do you have to eat everything on your plate?
  • What is the etiquette for refusing more food?
  • Should you talk during the meal?
  • What topics should you talk about? What should not be talked about?
  • Is it appropriate to praise the food?
  • Is it appropriate to belch at the table?
  • If you're not going to be home for a meal, do you have to let people know? How long in advance?
  • What are the rules for inviting someone to a meal?
  • When can you leave the table?
  • Is it okay to take food or drink to your room?
  • Is it okay to take food or drink to other rooms in the house?
  • Can you help yourself to food from the refrigerator whenever you want to do so?

Think of any other rules of eating you would tell a person from another country who was going to be a guest in your house back home. Do you need to find out about any of these rules here?


Photo of woman in field in Ghana.

3. HELPING OUT

  • What household duties is a guest expected to help with?
  • Is it appropriate to help with house cleaning?
  • Are you expected to clean your own room?
  • Are you expected to wash your own clothes?
  • Are you expected to iron your clothes?
  • Are you expected to take out the garbage?
  • Are you expected to do food shopping?
  • Are you expected to clean up after a meal?
  • Are you expected to help prepare for a meal, e.g. set the table, put food on the table?
  • Are you expected to help out with younger children?

Think of any other rules of helping out that you would tell a person from another country who was going to be a guest in your house back home. Do you need to find out about any of these rules here?

4. DRESS ETIQUETTE

  • What dress is appropriate in the morning before you are ready to dress for the day?
  • How should you be dressed when you are staying in the house and not going outside?
  • What is appropriate dress for going to take a bath?
  • How should you be dressed when you are in your room and the door is closed?
  • Are there rules about how you should dress for lunch and dinner?
  • How do you dress when guests are coming?
  • Can you wear shoes in the house?
  • For what occasions do you have to dress more formally?
  • In general, what parts of the body must always be covered, regardless of circumstances?
  • Is it okay to borrow clothes from family members?
  • Are you expected to lend your clothes to family members?
  • Is lending clothing to someone the same as giving it to them to keep?

Think of any other rules of dress that you would tell a person from another country who was going to be a guest in your house back home. Do you need to find out about any of these rules here?

5. PUBLIC AND PRIVATE

  • What rooms are considered public and which are private?
  • What is the etiquette for entering a private room?
  • What is the meaning of a closed door?
  • Is it okay to spend time by yourself in your room?
  • Are you not allowed in some areas of the house?
  • Are you expected to share personal possessions (tape player, books, cassettes, CDs, your laptop) with other members of the family?
  • What are the rules for bringing other people into the house?
  • In what instances can you be in your room with another person with the door closed?
  • When you leave the house, do you have to say where you're going and when you'll be back?
  • What responsibilities do you have when other guests come to visit?
  • Do you need permission to use such items around the house as the TV, radio, sewing machine, and other appliances?

Think of any other public/private rules you would tell a person from another country who was going to be a guest in your house back home. Do you need to find out about any of these rules here?

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