The Geopolitics of Hospitality

EHL Editorial Team | 23 Jan, 2017

What roles do cooking and hospitality play in international relations? The Politics and Diplomacy of Cooking and Hospitality online course will help guide future leaders in the matter.

EHL and Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) combined their assets to deliver a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Politics and Diplomacy of Cooking and Hospitality. Mr. Yves Schemeil, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, at the University of Grenoble Alpes, and current visiting professor at the two institutions, will deliver the course, with the help of other lecturers (chefs, butlers, wine stewards, EHL students and alumni).

WHAT'S NEW IN THIS SECOND EDITION OF THE MOOC?

We take our recipes and our table manners for granted. Viewed from the outer space, though, they are not! On planet earth, there is waste, excess, dramatic variety of ingredients, ways to prepare them, tastes and flavors. There is also little or too recent concerns for unhealthy food and rude hospitality manners. Finally, inequality and power rule the relations between guests or countries. In the future, all this could change: individuals would eat alone; personal robots would distribute food and drinks in adequate quantity and quality; there would be neither ceremonialism nor demonstrative banquets due to impress the guests’ minds. If this is our future, then it may be doomed for the hospitality industry!  Fortunately, the course shows how the extraterrestrial anthropologist becomes convinced that whatever we do on earth in meaningful and useful.

To tie geography/politics to hotel/restaurant operations certainly seems an awkward exercise.
But not so much in a broader perspective. Let’s see “geopolitics” as the study and practice of relations among people (or their representatives) living in different geographical, economic and cultural environments. Further, let’s define “hospitality” as covering the range of activities which bring out an atmosphere in which everyone feels not only welcome and content, but also recognized and treated as an individual with her/his own cultural baggage. Now, we can better discern the link.

“Every time one participates at a dinner, there is some kind of politics behind”, says Professor Schemeil.

Since immemorial times, human beings have surrendered to the ritual of food-sharing as a means to create or strengthen social links. Likewise, both international relations practitioners and businessmen know well that sharing (good) food with would-be or actual competitors is an efficient tool in fostering agreements or alliances. According to Professor Schemeil, this is not due to change drastically in our digital era: taste and the messages it carries cannot be digitalized.

For Professor Schemeil, “international relations have many challenging issues in common with the anthropology of cooking and receiving people.”

The more so if we consider that hospitality is not just about delivering food, but includes a pleasant surroundings, the whole process of organizing and exactly implementing a venue, the creation and actual making of savory meals, a caring service, the respect of guests’ cultural standards, etc.

From a family dinner to a world leaders’ banquet, challenges are similar, though at a different level of complexity due to the aims pursued, the interactions involved and the number of players needed to prepare the event. The basic task of the host is to make guests comfortable and happy, while always keeping in mind the final objective sought, whichever this may be.

Ancient Greeks diluted the wine served in negotiating banquets, says Professor Schemeil, “because they wished to keep meetings under a certain control.”

He adds that examples abound, though anecdotes usually refer to cases in which people derailed from the universal hospitality principles: “Why Iranian talks were finally held in Italy and not in France, as first contemplated? Just because French hosts insisted in serving wine and that was not acceptable to their Iranian counterparts.”

Any enactment, be it a philharmonic concert or an official dinner, appear as models of simplicity, when they are operated smoothly and successfully. But they are not effortless. They are the product of a demanding and detailed preparation, and of a disciplined implementation. Every step contributes to a successful performance, every contributor (from the most modest to the most prominent) is important and should ideally be conscious of her/his role in the final outcome.

Face-to-face diplomacy, around a table or at a cocktail, has no substitute in the present information world and in the foreseeable future, as a means to creating and maintaining social connection.

Hence the interest of this new online course to all players, both from the international relations and hospitality realms. The participants will understand the intrinsic role played by culture in any social interaction and be able to adjust their behavior to overcome the subsequent difficulties.

The Geopolitics of Hospitality
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