Last Monday morning I was standing at the Coffee Bean counter on platform two at Woking station, anxiously awaiting my mocha and highly conscious of the London Waterloo-bound train parked to my left. It was due to leave any second and I would miss it. With my mocha at last in hand, I turned, expecting to see the train pulling away from the platform. Instead I saw a lone blue-clad conductor cheerfully waving me over to one last open door. The train was fully boarded, and he was holding it for me. Me. And he was doing it happily. It was proof positive that hospitality can thrive in the urban jungle. It is an easy thing to forget when your daily NYC commute is a struggle to board the F train around the seven people who refuse to move clear of the door to let you in. Though there was another train just five minutes behind mine, it didn’t seem to matter. No one was going to be left behind while my conductor was on watch. I remained astonished at his generosity while I settled into my seat with a mocha that suddenly tasted like the best I’d ever had.
There is something about good hospitality that is warm enough to cut through the grayest, dampest day. I experienced it from the conductor who held my train, from the store clerks who patiently answered my jet lag-addled questions (usually about something painfully obvious), and I most strongly experienced it as the guest of my good friends Nikos and Petya. Nothing makes you feel warmer than the comfort of a home where you are made to feel not only welcomed, but wanted.
In this day and age we talk far more about being a gracious host than a gracious guest, but wouldn’t it stand to reason that it is at least equally important? I do not claim to have mastered the art of being a good guest, but my go-to move is solid. The number one play in my gratitude handbook is a simple thank you gift. And simple gifts are simple to give. The trick is just to seek out the type of indulgence that we rarely afford ourselves. That is the difference-maker. If you’re going to give a bottle of wine, give a truly great bottle of wine. Or select a special Armagnac or Cognac for something a little different (as well as elegant). If you want to give flowers, make sure they are fresh and vibrant, and choose an arrangement you think your host would enjoy. Typically your best selection will be what’s in-season. The idea I’m getting at here is quality over quantity. Treats like Mariage Frères tea, a sampling of pâté from Harrods Food Hall, or macarons from Ladurée do not cost a fortune, but they do make a statement. Such gifts are a reflection of the care you received during your stay. They also have the added benefit of helping ensure that the memory of your visit is an equally satisfying one for your host… and that the prospect of your return holds even more promise.