“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.”
I read a book about understanding literature before my first year of college, and it emphasized the importance of any event that involves characters sharing a meal. Because of the communal (as in, being in communion) aspect of eating together, and the inherent intimacy of such an act, eating together is a fundamental human interaction.
Especially while abroad, I’ve found that the very best way to enjoy the presence of friends is to prepare and enjoy a meal together!
Food is an important aspect of culture, and what better way to share your own traditions from home with your new friends abroad? Several times, my friend Domi, from Hungary, had a group of us over to enjoy a traditional Hungarian meal that he had prepared. We listened to Hungarian music and learned some limited Hungarian. For instance, Egészségére! means Cheers!
In late November and early December, I celebrated Thanksgiving not once, but twice, as a way of bringing new German and international friends into our American holiday tradition and to express to them how grateful I was for their friendship! Food and fellowship are two of the main facets of the holiday, are they not?
Of course, preparing the food is an important part of the experience. Because I’ve had the time this year, I’ve started to really love exploring new recipes and experimenting with different ingredients. And cooking with friends is even more fun!
A community or potluck dinner really is the perfect atmosphere, I’ve found, for getting to know new friends, because a dinner party is centered on conversation. This is especially a perk when you’re working on your language skills! You learn so much about the people you dine with if you are able to foster lively conversation.
Plus, group dinners widen your social circle. You invite your friends, someone brings his girlfriend along, someone else invites their roommate, and pretty soon you have a party! I’ve learned a lot this year about making conversation with people I may not know well, but who are undoubtedly interesting and worth talking to! It turns out small talk doesn’t come any more naturally to me in German as in English, but it’s worth it when you keep interesting company.
For anyone wanting to know how to build a stronger friend group or community, I’d recommend starting a tradition of regular dinner parties with your friends and acquaintances! And I say this even as the staunchest introvert… it’s worth the effort to put yourself out there and invite people to share a meal with you, especially one you’ve cooked. (Plus, cooking for yourself and your friends really cuts down on how much you spend at restaurants, which is a great frugal bonus.)
And we all know that every good dinner ends in dessert, so make sure to plan for that, too!