Everyone Likes My Kitchen Best – or Not

One of my mother's biggest complaints about cooking large family dinners was  "Everyone is always in my kitchen!"  Where else would we be?  That's where the action was; where the food was.

When I started entertaining it was the same: everyone congregated in the kitchen.  There were lots of offers to help, to taste, etc.  They were all graciously acknowledged and declined, as was expected.  Afterword there were more offers to help.  These were, briefly, accepted from close friends, otherwise laughingly declined: clean-up was for the next day

When we lived in Andorra we entertained and were entertained often.  I never saw anyone's kitchen.  And no guest ventured into mine.

The majority of our friends were British ex-pats.  They had lived in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Kenya, Nairobi, etc.  Most hadn't lived in Britain since their childhood, so I don't know it these are British traits or ex-pat traits.  I do know it was an adjustment for us open-arms, American types.

When we were invited to something, whether it was afternoon tea, pre-dinner drinks or a dinner party, we never knew anything about the event.  It just wasn't discussed.  We didn't know if we were the only invitees or with a group of 20; if it was a warm, cozy chance to have lively discussions or formal, stand-up and polite conversation only.  We could be playing golf with 6 other people, including the future host and have no idea if we would be seeing some or all of them 3 hours later. 

We were a bit less proper in Minnesota/Wisconsin.

In Andorra, the host/hostess of the event worked.  The cook was in the kitchen cooking; the bartender was in the bar tending.  The guests were in the living room/lounge enjoying themselves.  When dinner/tea was served everyone adjourned to the dining room.  During dinner, in between courses, the hostess served and removed, the host poured wine.  Several hours later, when everyone was relaxing over a final port the hosts would actually be allowed to have some fun.  There was never, ever, ever an offer 'to help'.  When you were the hosts you worked, when you were the guests you didn't.

Don't misunderstand, everyone always had a great time and it wasn't the least bit stiff; just proper.

One friend did confide to me that "Entertaining was so much easier when we lived in Singapore and had 'staff'!"  Ya think? 

Another cultural difference between the Brit's and Americans (the French houses we've been in have been more open) is the issue of doors.  Every room is completely enclose by walls and has doors that are kept closed.  If it's a small house, like the one we had in Ireland, you enter into a small hallway.  The hallway has doors leading off, all of which are closed.  If it's a grand house, it's the same; just a bigger hallway.

In the U.S. Great Rooms were popular; large open-plan rooms that encompassed the kitchen, dining area and main living area.  One big room; no doors.  At the very least the kitchen/dining room/living room were partially open to each other, divided perhaps, by a partial wall or archway. 

We used to have a friend stay at our house to dog-sit in Andorra.  The first thing she did was walk around, closing doors.  We came home and opened them up again.  Because Andorra is all steep mountains, houses are tall rather than wide.  We had a spiral staircase of 45 steps going up the center with rooms off it on seven levels: no hallways but lots of doors. 

(Side note:  When we moved into that house one of the movers asked me if something went in the bedroom on the left or the right.  It's a spiral staircase….going up ALL of the rooms were on the left.  Coming down they were on the right.  Unfortunately, this question/answer came after many trips to the top and he failed to share my  humor.  Oh yes, all of the rooms were also at ground level…. somewhere)

Come to think of it, if no one was ever allowed in my kitchen (I'd have to get a door) I could have everything catered and take all the credit…..did I miss something in Andorra?  Did they really have 'staff' and were keeping it a secret?  Why am I always the last to know?   

Do you say 'to-may-to' or 'to-mah-to'?  I say 'to-mahyh-to'  ….or, sometimes, 'ta-may-duh' ….

6 thoughts on “Everyone Likes My Kitchen Best – or Not”

  1. Living in Minnesota, our kitchen was never big enough…even with the great room/kitchen layout more people congregated toward the kitchen area. Our kitchen in France has a door – almost always open – and rarely do the French or Brits enter unless invited to do so. Do they think we have staff? lol
    I used to say to-may-to. Now I just point. HA! ; )

  2. Katie,
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kitchen with a door. When I was growing up and even now when we have company, freewheeling anarchy prevails.

  3. I still say to-may-to but now refer to pants as trousers around our British friends so they don’t think I’m talking about my underwear!
    The main floor in our little house is an open kitchen/living area so when you come into the house and sit down on the couch, you’re pretty much sitting in the kitchen!
    Every party I go to, people congregate in the kitchen. Even if the house is huge but has a tiny kitchen, people will still cram themselves in there. At formal dinner parties our friends of any nationality are more likely to sit at the table and stay there. I usually offer to help with serving, dishes, etc and the offer is usually declined.

  4. There was not enough room to swing a cat in my mother’s kitchen and always twice as many people as could resonably fit (and all talking)
    Loulou it sounds like your friends are a little more relaxed – like Minnesotans! I was playing golf with the same group of Brits when I commented that I wanted to get some knickers to wear in the cooler weather. I couldn’t figure out why everyone was either blushing or laughing. The word I wanted was ‘knickerbocker’. They all thought I only wore underwear in the winter….

  5. Most American houses are huge compared to houses in England. You are so right about everyone closing the doors to every room. It’s bad enough that the houses are tiny but all the closed doors just make me feel claustrophobic!

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