Modern Etiquette: Consider how you treat the "Unknown Visitor"

Mon Dec 19, 2011 8:23am EST
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By Mary Mitchell

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Recently, I accompanied a friend as her guest to an event at a private home. It's fair to say that the others there treated me dismissively at best.

My garb was appropriate and understated. So was my demeanor. I was the out-of-town visitor, unknown, and quite possibly not worth anyone's time. Perhaps I was being overly sensitive. Frankly, I did not enjoy the frosty experience.

Yet I could not help reflect on the episode, especially since the holiday season is filled with guests and visitors - some known and some not at all.

My Hungarian grandmother used to say, "No matter who a person is, or what his station might be, he is a guest in my home and will be treated graciously, respectfully, and warmly." That principle was non-negotiable, yet obviously would not apply to intruders.

When I recounted my story to Gary Trantham, a physician and Jungian scholar, he pointed out that the myth of the Unknown Visitor pervades practically every culture and that my grandmother's instruction echoed the Ukrainian adage, "Guest in the house - God in the house," which is spoken even today.

Dr. Trantham reminded me that, while mostly everybody knows the story of Mary and Joseph being turned away at the inn and giving birth to the baby Jesus in a manger, the theme of the Unknown Visitor can be traced much further back.

Ancient Greeks told of gods Zeus and Hermes disguising themselves to test human beings. Similar tales exist in Chinese folklore, Indian tradition, Nordic mythology, Russian folk tales and North African/Muslim cultures.

"There are common denominators of the Unknown Visitor," Trantham said.   Continued...