One of the things I love about Latin American culture is the hospitality of its people. There is nothing better than arriving in a foreign land, staying with people you've never met before, yet feeling completely at home.
So what is it about Latin people that makes foreigners feel so comfortable? I believe it's a unified desire to encourage a laid back experience for guests. All cultures place a high value on hospitality, but Latins do it with an ultra relaxed approach, lulling you into a calm state. It's not so much about lifting heaven and earth for your every whim and desire; instead, the focus is on making you feel like part of the family. Latin people want you to feel comfortable, do as you please, and move at your own pace.
When staying in someone's house, it's only natural to want to conform to their habits. You want to be a good guest, trouble your host as little as possible, and help out as much as you can. You eat when they eat and sleep when they sleep. You take a humble stand.
Although this attitude is a noble one with good intent, I've found it's better to relax and let yourself be a little spoiled by your host. It's a win-win situation because your host wants you to behave this way; they want you to feel as comfortable as possible and not worry about what you think you're supposed to do.
For example: I had just arrived at my friend's family's apartment in Rio de Janeiro after a long flight, and due to the flight specifics, I hadn't slept in over a day. I was exhausted, but I didn't think it was appropriate to ask for a bed.
Suddenly, my friend's aunt came over to me with a concerned look on her face. "You look tired" she said, as she grabbed my hand and led me to one of the bedrooms. "Here... lie down, get some sleep, and come see us when you're rested." After a sweet slumber, I woke up just in time to enjoy a great lunch!
Another time, I was staying with my friend's Mexican family in Los Angeles. His uncle went out of his way to make my visit as comfortable as possible, and even slept on the couch in order to provide me with a bed!
I was the first one to wake up in the morning. I felt hungry, so I walked into the kitchen and made myself some toast. When my friend's uncle walked in, I suddenly felt a little strange. I realized that it's not my nature to grab food from someone's kitchen without asking.
Before I could say anything, he patted me on my back and said "good to see you made yourself at home!" It then struck me that the good man's efforts to make me feel at home had paid off and this was the reason I felt comfortable making myself breakfast.
Having spent a fair amount of time in different countries in Latin America, I have many other examples... too many to include in this post. I can't, however, conclude without mentioning my wonderful family-in-law in Santiago de Chile, my semi-sister in San Salvador and my good friend "Boludo" in Buenos Aires! Thanks for being such amazing hosts!