The English, though you will find them friendly, do not rush to invite people to their homes – a great pity, but a fact. However, a minority are extremely hospitable, and you may find yourself invited to someone’s home for an evening, or at midday – or indeed, for afternoon tea. With such people there should be no problem. They will want to make you feel comfortable, they will enjoy showing you all sorts of things with which you may be perfectly well acquainted, and they will display astonishing ignorance about your own home life. My advice is: ‘Ask, if you don’t know what to do next, which drink to choose, whenever you don’t understand something which seems important. People enjoy explaining. And if you are asked questions, try to explain in answer. People enjoy trying to understand. But don’t feel that a simple question needs a ten-minute answer. Stop before you have completed your story, so that your friends can ask further questions. First, you may find that they have completely misunderstood you, and you need to start again. Secondly, English culture, unlike Ukirainian culture, does not normally include monologues.
Homes and individuals differ so much that it is impossible to generalise about what you will find. But there is an underlying ‘pattern’ to English hospitality which differs from the Russian ‘pattern’. Let us suppose you have been invited out for the evening. You will be given a meal, but it will not be waiting for you as soon as you arrive. First there is a period of anticipation, when people sit around, talking, getting to know each other, sipping a preparatory drink. Assuming your hosts drink alcohol, you will be offered a drink. If there is a choice, ask for advice if you aren’t sire. You may prefer a soft drink. You will eat nothing, except, possibly, a few tiny biscuits. Don’t expect much to drink at this stage: you may be offered a second drink but very rarely
more, and you may bid yourself talking for half an hour or even an hour. This is a period when the English often seem to talk about nothing very much. Call people by the names by which they are introduced to you. And you will have already discovered that since we do not use patronymics you will have to reconcile yourself to the use of your first name only – in whatever form you wish.
Meals will certainly have two courses, and if the occasion is fairly formal, quite probably three courses: a ‘first course’/’starter’ which will be light and probably cold, or a soup; a ‘main course’ which will have meat or fish and vegetables, unless your hosts are vegetarians, and a sweet course – a pudding or cheese or fruit. There will probably be bread around, but it is not eaten at such meals as often as with you, so by all means ask for a slice, but don’t expect to eat half the loaf.
Your hosts will have prepared and cooked the meal (often husband as well as wife if you are being entertained by a couple) and they will normally expect to serve it. If you are asked to ‘help yourself, then do so, but very often the hostess will serve out food onto plates and pass it round. Traditionally, when everyone has finished the first helping, you will be asked if you would like a second one. This may mean waiting while someone else slowly empties his or her plate, but it is polite to wait rather than serve yourself to a second helping. Your hosts’ job is to make sure that everyone is served fairly. And don’t heap potatoes or rice or whatever onto your neighbour’s plate unless you are asked to. Most people in this country make an effort to finish what they are given.