How to Be a Kick-Ass Hostess with Danielle Perrin

by gigigriffis

This is part of my unconventional interview series, designed to demonstrate the wildly varied ways we can live, work, and chase our dreams. Please keep in mind that, since these are interviews, the opinions, methods, and websites contained within do not necessarily reflect my own views or experiences. (Which is, in my opinion, part of what makes them wonderful.)


Today, I’m so thrilled to re-introduce you to my friend Dani (who also did this excellent interview on what it’s like to go to the doctor in France). She’s here this week to talk to us about hosting. Because I talk a lot about traveling here on the blog, but actually physically going somewhere isn’t the only way to experience other cultures and interesting people. The flip side of that coin is hosting…be it a dinner party, a girl’s night, or a an overnight guest.

So today I wanted to get some tips and advice for bringing friends and family and the world into your home via hosting. And because Dani is one of the most spectacular hosts I know, she’s the one I asked to give us the inside scoop.

Now, to Dani…


First, tell us about you. Where are you from and where do you live now? What do you do for work and for fun?

My name is Danielle Tellez Perrin and I am an American in Paris married to a charming Frenchman. Before being whisked off to the land of baguettes and wine, I was a Pediatric Emergency Room Nurse. Due to complications of transferring my nursing license, I changed careers and currently work as a Business English Teacher in Paris.

During my free time, I enjoy people watching while sipping a glass of wine or recently hot chocolate (when I am not planning our next adventure, of which this year’s is motherhood.)

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Since you live in such a popular city, I know you host friends and family coming through town a lot. Is hospitality/hosting something you have always loved or something you kind of stumbled upon living in Paris?

As a people person, I have always loved to host people. Hospitality has always been a part of my education since I was young. From hosting international guests from around the world to lavish dinners and casual BBQ pool parties, my mom is a domestic goddess who knows how to make her guests feel welcome and comfortable in every situation.

Raised in this environment, my sisters and I were not only exposed to but also actively involved in helping my mom. In fact, her passion to host people is what enabled her to successfully start her business as a wedding planner and event coordinator. When I was not working shifts in the ER while I was in the states, I would volunteer to work with my mom as an assistant helping her plan and prepare various charity dinners or wedding events.

I believe her passion for hosting comes from her strong Asian education, as my Lola (grandma) welcomes her guests the same manner, hosting huge elaborate Filipino dinners and parties.

treats

What is your favorite thing about having company? What’s the biggest challenge?

As Paris is an international hub, most of my guests are traveling through. As a people watcher and dreamer, I always enjoy hearing about my guests’ adventures traveling around Europe and the various cultural experiences they had during their trips.

One of the most challenging aspects about hosting is when I am not able to anticipate my guest. For example, when a guest does not respond to my dinner invitation asking them to inform me of any allergy/dietary food restrictions. It is embarrassing and frustrating to offer an elaborate duck dish your guest cannot eat because they assumed you knew that the recently changed their diet to vegan. It is also difficult when you are hosting a guest overnight and they do not give you their dates or time of arrival. It is important to know to welcome them into your home or arrange for someone to let them in while you are at work.

Of course, the most difficult part of hosting is when guests are inconsiderate and do not make an effort to cancel. Life happens and I always anticipate delays, but please inform the host as soon as possible if you will not be able to attend dinner and PLEASE apologize for any inconvenience caused. The worse experience I had was when my guests not only did not show up to dinner, but they also did not respond to my texts and phone calls, causing me to worry that something had happened to them. It was not until two hours after dinner was supposed to be served that they called me…not to cancel or apologize, but just to respond to my numerous phone calls/texts asking if they were ok and “inform” me that they had bought dinner and were going to bed.

Breakfast

Okay…so give us some tips. What can people do to be exemplary hosts—whether it’s for just a dinner party (which you are awesome at) or having someone come stay with you?

For me, hospitality is creating a welcoming environment. The ambiance is the devil in the details that make the difference. By having the dinner table prepared with candles lit, table set, and water glasses filled as music plays in the background, you indicate to your guests that you have been expecting them. Also having appetizers and drinks readily available for them to serve themselves helps ease the guests into your home and allows you to properly welcome them and socialize instead of hurriedly trying to get food out. Even the smaller nuances such as lighting a scented candle in the bathroom, chocolates on the pillow, a bouquet of flowers, a scented diffuser by the bedside, or fresh water on the nightstand in the guest room are appreciated and welcoming details.

My mom taught me that it is important to anticipate and attend to guest needs. Whether you are hosting them for dinner or a week, always plan and prepare accordingly. For example, when I am hosting a dinner party, I always ask if there are any food allergies or dietary restrictions. If they are staying with us, I ask about their schedule ahead of time so that I can plan on being home to welcome them or make meal plans. I also try to do some little extras…like help them navigate the metro system, recommend restaurants, call a taxi, or suggest places I think they’ll enjoy visiting while in Paris.

It’s also important to be flexible, as sometimes you cannot anticipate. Always assume that your guest might arrive late (with a grace period of 15 – 30 minutes before checking in if they haven’t already notified you of their late arrival). Always be prepared to offer food and beverage upon your guests’ arrival. I always have snacks, cookies, coffee, and tea stocked in the pantry, so even if someone stops by last minute I am prepared.

To avoid any stress, I also have the guest room ready with clean sheets and fresh towels in case anyone unexpectedly needs a place to stay. Just that small note of anticipation makes the guests feel at ease when you invite them to stay the night, even at the last minute.

Snacks

What can guests do to be great guests—both for a short-term hosting like a dinner party and for an overnight or longer stay?

A sincere thank you is simple but the most important expression of gratitude. If you are invited to a dinner party, it is always in good taste to offer to bring something (whether it be a bottle of wine or a dish). If you are a close friend of the host, offering to help serve dishes or clear the table is also appreciated. When you are guest in someone’s home, it is polite to offer a small gift of appreciation, whether it be a little trinket from your home country, chocolates, or flowers. Even offering to treat your hosts to dinner is a lovely gesture, especially if they have been preparing various meals for you during your stay.

Remember to be respectful. Your host is opening their home and taking time to prepare a meal and/or a room for you. If you are running late or need to cancel at the last minute, please inform your host as soon as possible. Life is unexpected and your host will understand (well, assuming it’s not a habit).

It’s also polite to inform your host of any dietary restrictions so that they can plan the meal accordingly.

Respect the lifestyle of your host, whether they are very formal with assigned seating at the table with six courses, casual with open seating on the floor for an aperitif, or religious, praying before a meal. Be open to their style of hospitality, even if it is not to your taste.

Do not assume their house is your home and ask if you need something. For example, a guest decided to take toilet paper out of the bathroom without asking and another guest decided to go into the fridge looking for Parmesan cheese instead of asking or looking to see that I had placed it on the table.

Always be aware of your host’s culture especially when traveling abroad to avoid embarrassing culture-clash. For example: as Americans, we are open with various diets; however, the rest of the world does not necessarily understand nor cater to every dietary choice. During our travels in Asia, my husband and I recognized food is very important to their culture. It is rude to not eat what your host prepared for you and to not ask for second or third servings. If you are unable to eat due to religious fasting or illness, it is better to cancel (in advance) than to insult your host by not touching their food. My Lola actually forbid past guests from entering her home again because of their disrespect in not eating the food she spent time preparing for them. When staying with a host family in Spain and Brazil, we quickly learned that dinner is not until 10 p.m. and that it is rude to leave before the meal is done (usually after midnight). (One quickly develops an understanding and appreciation for siestas in that culture.) While living in Italy, one of my classmates had issues with her host family because they could not understand her gluten-free and vegan diet. They would constantly serve her local specialties (things like fresh pasta and pork) believing it was impossible to live life not eating meat or pasta….reminiscent of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Dani and Luna
Dani showing her fuzziest guest around Paris.

Has hosting people in Paris changed the way you travel/are a guest? What do you notice, think about, or do differently when you stay with someone?

Ironically, my exposure traveling around the world has enriched my perspective of hosting. While staying at a five-star resort in Scottsdale, I was pleasantly surprised by the simple savory chocolate on my pillow. Staying in a Riad in Morocco, I appreciated how the hosts always had fresh hot mint tea ready to serve whenever we returned from a long day in the city. While staying in an Airbnb apartment in Belgium, my husband and I greatly appreciate the fridge full of complimentary Belgian beers. During our tour of Southeast Asia, we noticed that every time we returned to our guest apartments the hosts were always sincere in asking us about our day and offering to help in any way possible. It is these small nuances I also try to incorporate when people stay with us (though I offer wine instead of beer in Paris).

Room

Is there anything else I haven’t asked you, but should have, about being a kick-ass hostess?

Enjoy the moment, enjoy the experience, and enjoy your guests. If you are tense and stressed, it will affect the mood of the evening and make your guests feel uncomfortable. Hospitality is a pleasure in a shared moment. Don’t lose yourself in a complicated recipe or hide behind dirty dishes; the most important thing to remember is that your guests have accepted your invitation to spend quality time with you!


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