The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Friends with (much) less refuse to just let them treat

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: One of my kids has a best friend who lives in another country. They met when we lived there for a while for my husband’s job and just instantly bonded. We visit about once a year and the friend comes to visit us once a year. The friend is great and just slots in with the rest of our kids, so it is really easy to have him stay with us.

The problem is that his parents don’t have much money. Our family makes more in a month than they make in a year. We are completely fine paying for everything when we go out, but when we are in their country, they always want to pay. We have no problem accepting invitations to their house to eat and trying to mostly do cheap things, such as taking the kids to the park or to swim in a lake, but sometimes, money will be spent. We will watch them count out their change and offer to buy one ice cream for the four boys to split. Or tell the hungry kids that they can eat in two hours after we make it back to their house.

When we offer to pay or just go buy food, drinks or tickets, they are hurt. The parents are lovely people, and it is so sweet that they want to treat us to everything. They are spending much more of their money on us than we are on them, relatively speaking.

On the one hand I feel overwhelmed by their generosity. On the other hand, and I know I’m going to sound like a glassbowl, but it would be so much easier for us to just pay. Sometimes we want to see a popular tourist attraction and they can’t afford it. They don’t want us to pay for them OR ourselves. I have to plan our day carefully and get food and drinks to carry around with me because at some point, the kids will actually be hungry, and instead of stopping to buy food, I have to already have it. I mean, it’s good for the kids to know we can walk an hour and a half to save ourselves $1 in bus fare, but I would so much rather just take the bus. I would be fine if just the kids went off together (they’re old enough) then I could just give them money, but the parents always want to come and want us to come.

Is there anything I can do or say to make them not feel bad with us paying? Or is there another way to handle the situation?

— Please Just Let Us Pay!

Please Just Let Us Pay!: Once a year, live their way, on their turf.

Isn’t that the best thing any of us can get out of a close relationship with people who live in a very different way from ours?

Resist the urge to control, know better, make things easier, skip the long walk, satisfy all the hungers. Even with good intentions, it’s missing the point at best, and at worst embarrassing or insulting your hosts. Use that long $1 walk to look around, breathe, absorb.

Think what a profound education you’re all getting about culture; about the generosity of people who have little (material) to give; about adaptability; about not taking things for granted; about how the first bites of ice cream are always the best ones anyway.

What a profound education you’re getting. Please don’t grit your teeth through it.

Wanna sightsee? Go early to do your own thing.