What Does It Mean to "Feel at Home"?
The phrase "feel at home" is an idiom, which is an expressive, figurative statement. When a person says that another person should feel at home, he doesn't usually mean these words literally. Instead, the phrase typically means the person should not feel like a guest or an outsider. Likewise, when a person says he feels at home, this typically means that he feels accepted and as if he belongs in a particular place or with a group of people.
One of the meanings of the phrase "feel at home" is to feel accepted. When a person feels at home, this usually means he feels as if he belongs rather than like a stranger or an outsider. For instance, if an individual joins a group or moves into a dorm building mid-semester, he could feel uncomfortable and as if he doesn't belong. If people are very welcoming to the newcomer, however, and he feels as if he fits in and is one of the already established group, this usually means he feels at home. Generally, people are more likely to remain in a place or group if they feel accepted rather than having consistent feelings of being outsiders.
Often, the phrase "feel at home" means a person feels as if he is at home in a particular place rather than feeling like a guest. For example, if a person is traveling and is welcomed into the home of friends or relatives, he may feel tentative or as if he should be very careful about what he does or says while he is there. Some hosts, however, do not want their guests to feel as if they have to be careful or tentative. To avoid this, they may put a good deal of effort into making the guest as comfortable as he would be in his own home and let him know that he is free to do as he pleases, without seeking any sort of permission or approval.
Usually, when a person wants to make a guest feel at home, he wants him to feel free to do as he pleases, but within reason. This may mean, for example, the guest is free to use the host's phone and eat from his refrigerator, but not eat everything in the refrigerator without regard to others or call so many people that he creates a high long-distance phone bill for the host to pay. Likewise, the host may say that the guest is free to come and go as he pleases, but with the expectation that the guest will be mindful of others sleeping, for instance.
I like this phrase a lot. I think it implies that our home is the most comfortable place on earth and I agree with that. As they say, "there is no place like home." Although no place can be quite as comfortable as our home, some places do come close. I think part of it has to do with the ambiance of the place. For example, there is a cafe that I frequent often. I love the ambiance of it. There are couches with pillows, soft music in the background and lots of books. When I'm having a cup of coffee there, I do feel like I'm at home. I think that more establishments need to aim for this type of ambiance because people like spending time at home. So if they feel like they're at home somewhere, they will want to be there more often.
@ZipLine-- Actually, I think this depends on the host and what they consider acceptable. A friend of my mother, aunt Claire, lives close to my campus. I often go to their house because my home is too far away. So on the weekends, I may spend time there. When aunt Claire says "feel at home," she really means it. I can go the kitchen and make myself a sandwich. And I can go and take a nap or take their dog out for a walk.
I agree that not everyone really means it when they say "feel at home." But some people do and as guests, we have to judge that based on how close we are with that person. Aunt Claire has known me since I was in diapers and we are very close, so there is no question of whether she really means what she says.
Although many people will greet a guest by saying "feel at home" they don't really mean that entirely. I mean, they want you to be comfortable, but obviously that doesn't mean that you can take the liberty to do whatever you want. For example, you probably shouldn't go to their kitchen, open the fridge and eat whatever you want. Or you shouldn't go and change the setup of their cable television.
What people really mean by this idiom is "be comfortable as much as a guest can be!"
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