IN THIS CENTURY of settled countryside and domesticated animals, one of the few spine-tingling exploration adventures that remains is finding someone's house using hastily scribbled directions taken over the phone. You leap into the void, threading the maze of streets and landmarks step by step, proceeding to the next turn only as the former one is found. Did they perhaps forget to tell you about one turn? Will you be able to read your writing? (Is that word you wrote down "next" or "left"?)
For me, a little extra apprehension enters the picture when the goal is a visit to someone I have never met in person. It was a common experience when I used to have newspaper assignments, or when I traveled on vacation with a Servas directory (Servas is an international hospitality network) in hand. Now it mostly occurs while looking for good used farm equipment. But that apprehension is mixed with equal parts anticipation that this stop may bring new knowledge, a good laugh, or perhaps even a new friend.
To welcome a stranger into one's home is an act of trust, generosity, hospitality. To some degree in every culture it is a sacred act. And more often than not, people signal their welcome by offering something to drink. In Latin America it might be cornmeal cocoa; in Kenya, ginger tea; in the southern United States, a glass of iced tea. "Do you have time for a cup of coffee?" is a magic phrase in our culture. I have seen people who don't even like coffee sip reverently at a cup when it is offered in hospitality as the only choice.
Coffee need not be the only choice, however. Neither should iced tea and soft drinks be your only beverages this time of year. Offer your guests a frosty blender fruit drink and you will see wilted demeanors perk right up.