Last week, our guest author Paul provided some helpful advice on making friends in a new place. Today, our regular guest blogger Jessica – a Puertorican-American expat recently returned to the States, who blogs about her experience on Adventures of the Repatriate – shows us another great way of meeting new people and bringing them together: hosting an international dinner party.
I love to entertain at home. Ever since I was a kid, I was in the kitchen helping my mom cook. In Puerto Rico, cooking is a big part of our culture – there is no better way to bring people together. I developed a love for the kitchen mainly because I loved experiencing how happy people felt when they left our home after a great meal.
Some say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I say the way to everybody’s heart is through their stomach. Many friendships have emerged from my dinner table. It is great to hear when someone is asked how they met a friend and the response is “oh, at Jessica’s table”.
Dining at Home and Abroad
As exciting as expat life can be, it can be very lonely at times. Many times we yearn for the feeling of a warm kitchen and sharing food over laughs and stories. During my six years in Brussels, I hosted many dinners at my table. My table saw Americans, Peruvians, Dutch, Australians, New Zealanders, Germans, Belgians, Argentinians, Spanish, Moroccans, Tunisians, Koreans, and the list goes on. One of the things I enjoyed most at these dinner parties is how unlikely friendships emerged. By the time dessert is served, we often realize we have much more in common than we thought.
Last October, I returned to the United States and now live in Washington, DC. One of the first things I bought for my new home was a large dining table. When I first arrived, my social life was limited to only a few friends I had not seen in years. I reenergized the friendships by inviting them over for dinner and asking them to bring new friends along. Thankfully, DC is a very international city. My table is starting to see more nationalities as the months go by.
Simple Tips for a Successful Host
For many people, entertaining can be overwhelming, especially with an international crowd. In reality, it is easier than imagined. Here are some of my best practice tips.
• Mingle: I always begin with an apero in order for the guests to get talking and introduce themselves. Usually a glass of bubbles gets people in the mood for conversation. If you have time, make a cocktail reflective of your country.
• Share: ask a guest to bring a dessert or wine from their country. The other guests thus get to know a little tidbit from another place.
• Get the guests involved: at times, I invite the guests to help me cook a dish. It also facilitates new people getting to know one another before being seated.
• Keep it simple: most guests do not expect the refinement of a restaurant. On the contrary, they come for a relaxed environment.
There are many ways to make new friends in a new place, but I found that it is much easier and relaxed when bonding over a good meal. I’m grateful for all the friendships I have made through my table and look forward to many more in my new life in DC.
From reaching out to friends to becoming a hostess through site like Bookalokal (a social networking platform which connects hostesses with travelers and locals alike to share dinners at home), there are many ways to expand a social network in a new place. No better way than to do it through the stomach – and thus through the heart.
(Photo credits: All photos taken by Jessica D at her own dinner parties. The ladies in the second one are two InterNations members from Ukraine and Bolivia, respectively, ready to assist the hostess.)