European culture formally began with the books of Homer. These European cultural stories were popularized in Europe approximately 3,000 years ago and then written down by the poet Homer about 2,700 years ago. One of the major themes in Homer is the concept of Xenia. Xenia defines the behavior expected from local European residents toward travelers, strangers, and even immigrants. Xenia also defines the behavior that is expected in return from these guests, these strangers in a strange land. The concepts presented in the Iliad and the Odyssey are considered the foundation of the European cultural tradition termed the code of hospitality or the code of courtesy.
The European tradition of Xenia was incorporated into the emerging Christian traditions in the 1st through 4th centuries. The tradition of Xenia has lasted far better in Eastern Orthodox European cultures than in Western Europe and the English speaking colonial nations. The Eastern Orthodox Church and the countries of Eastern Europe have struggled against many invasions by strangers for over a thousand years. There was the Tartar invasions, Muslim invasions, Roman Catholic inspired invasions and even Communist invasions inspired by the western banking cartels. Xenia remains an important cultural touchstone that is a useful tool in the preservation of European cultural norms. Nowhere in the study of Xenia does the concept of Xenophobia arise. There was no fear of the stranger. Strangers were expected to abide by the European social code defined by Xenia or they could expect to be beaten senselessly or simply killed for their transgressions.
The Iliad and the Odyssey can be read as a guide to common sense as well as a guide to cultural assimilation. In the Iliad we have the hubris and errors of youth presented that destroy great families and great nations. In the Odyssey similar subjects are presented on a more personal level. Odysseus, King of Ithaca, offended the Gods and found himself on a journey for ten years trying to get back home. The better part of the Odyssey can be seen as a study of good Xenia Vs. bad Xenia. The moral lesson of the Odyssey is don’t offend God and practice good hospitality.
So what is Xenia? Good Xenia is to treat a traveler as a guest and give them food, warm clothing if needed, sleeping quarters, protection, entertainment and perhaps a ride home. The guest is expected to return gratitude, courtesy, loyalty, an appropriate gift and then tell their story and revel who they are. It is considered in bad form to lie to make your story sound more impressive.
After the host has provided the guest with hospitality he may reasonably ask the guest who he/she is and what is the nature of their business. The general theory is that the guest could be God in disguise. God could be testing the character of the host to see if he/she has good moral character. If a person is a good host he/she avoids sinning and the resulting punishment and potential retribution of God.
A guest must never overstay their welcome or eat up all the food, or take advantage of the host, or be disloyal. The guest must not be violent or force sex upon women. The reward for bad Xenia is a severe beating or death. Generally speaking, any display of hubris will result in punishment from God. One of the worst things that can happen to anyone is to have the wrath of God fall upon him or her.
In Eastern Europe these traditions of Xenia are less formal today than they were in earlier centuries, but they are still very much a part of the cultural norm. If you plan on visiting Eastern Europe or doing business there, it is important to study up on Xenia and to follow the general formula of Xenia. Some common traditions are to never eat the last piece of food. Never drink the last of the wine or beer or coffee. It is considered rude. If your host is poor it may place a hardship upon them. If you do business in Eastern Europe, put all your cards on the table. Always bring people appropriate gifts and bring food and drink to meetings. Always buy them the best meal you can reasonably afford.
If you think that you can behave in Eastern Europe like people do in New York City, guess again. If you think that cheating people proves what a cleaver businessman you are, you may get exactly what you deserve. Consider yourself fortunate if they only act like “thugs” and beat you up. You may well succeed in getting the best of an Eastern European in a business deal, but it is unlikely you will live to enjoy it. The reason can be explained in the 3000-year-old cultural tradition of Xenia. Western Europeans would be well advised to dust off their copies of Homer.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.