Food on Fridays: Reclaim Mealtime Conversation

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For the Food on Fridays carnival, any post remotely related to food is welcome—though we love to try new dishes, your post doesn’t have to be a recipe. We’re pretty relaxed over here, and stories and photos are as welcome as menus and recipes.When your Food on Fridays contribution is ready, just grab the broccoli button to paste at the top of your post. It ties us together visually.Then fill in the boxes of this linky tool to join the fun!

Food on Fridays with Ann

One time we were making plans to have another family over for dinner. As we were discussing the get-together, they said, “So, after we eat at your house, what will we do? I suppose we’ll just sit around and … talk?”“Um, yes. What would you do at someone else’s house?”“Watch a movie or maybe a football game.”“Oh, well, we just talk. I hope that’s okay. We’ll ask lots of questions if things drag a little!”They came over and not only did they survive an evening without “entertainment” filling in the slower, quiet moments, but I think they actually had a good time.I’ve thought a lot about their concern that we would just talk. They wondered what we would do and how we would fill all that time. We Americans are so used to noise and entertainment, this may be one of many challenges to building community and conversation in our culture.The speed of our “microwave-fast culture” is also a major hurdle. Few of us take time to stop and sit down and talk, whether as a family or with friends. The culture itself works against this value, so we have to be intentional to make it happen.This is so important and so hard.Sometimes I take inspiration from my European relatives, who are located in Belgium and France. When we’re visiting, we’ve been part of multi-course meals that stretch out all evening.And what do they do during each of those courses and in-between? How do they fill all that time?They talk.If you long to slow down, you can do the same.Invite people over.Share a meal.Talk.It’s a way to counter the culture without making a dramatic, disruptive, long-term change. Plus, you’ll have a chance to build community while you’re slowing down!Try to schedule a dinner in the next few weeks with some friends.Don’t schedule it around a football game (I know that’s almost impossible this time of year, but try).Don’t rent a movie as a back-up plan.Just plan a meal (it doesn’t have to be a multi-course affair; in fact, Americans don’t seem to mind a pitch-in).And then?For one night, reclaim conversation.Does the thought of sustaining that much conversation intimidate you like it did my friends? Here are some slow-down solutions to help you enjoy connection and reclaim conversation:

  • Ask curious, open-ended questions. Decide how in-depth this group of people will want to go. If this is a group of friends from church intending to dig deeper into each other’s lives, you can ask different questions than you would with a group of neighbors who are just getting acquainted. Either way, however, open-ended questions are the way to get people responding with more than one sentence or one word. 
  • Listen. Our culture is influenced by creative media presentations on TV and film that overlap images, sound and text; plus, almost everyone is accustomed to multi-tasking and dividing attention, half-listening to a conversation while texting someone else, for example. This encourages and supports interruption, which stifles and shuts down meaningful conversation. Fight the urge to overlap or interrupt. Try to focus completely on the speaker and listen carefully and actively to what he or she is saying. Even repeat back part of what was said to be sure you understood completely.
  • Ask follow-up questions. Sometimes people will cut themselves off for fear of dominating the conversation. If everyone seems to be enjoying the direction of a person’s story or response, ask a follow-up question to bring them out a little more.
  • Encourage stories. When people tell their stories, we get to know them better. Plus, one story may spark a memory in someone else, leading to more stories.
  • Use pre-fab questions. Check out Garry D. Poole’s The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 Conversation Starters for Any Occasion (you should be able to sample 99 “Light and Easy” questions from the book at this link). Though it might seem a little contrived to pull out a book of pre-printed questions, this simple tool can get people laughing and sharing right away, should things drag a little. Pinpoint five to ten questions ahead of time that may fit the group that’s gathered around your table (or living room, if the meal is finished and you’ve migrated to couches with coffee and dessert). There are other books of questions available, but Garry’s is organized so that the questions go deeper and deeper as the numbers go higher, moving toward more spiritually focused topics.
  • Be vulnerable. Without overwhelming or over-sharing, be willing to offer something a little vulnerable to take a conversation deeper than small talk. The appropriate depth depends upon the group and the goal of the evening. You can lead the way without hogging the conversation by modeling a vulnerable response.
  • Relax and have fun! Regardless of the flow of conversation or topics explored, one key to reclaiming conversation is to be relaxed and enjoy yourself. If the host is uptight, the conversation might be stilted and awkward, as guests might be concerned about doing something upsetting. Lead the way with a smile, mood and tone that encourage a comfortable atmosphere.

I invite you to report back on your gathering with observations, recommendations, and lessons learned.This post is modified from the archives of NotSoFastBook.com. Related reading at The High Calling: “The Secret Ingredient” by Dan King. Photo of European young people, copyright 2005 by Ann Kroeker. This post contains affiliate links.

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  • Comments

    1. Hi Ann.

      I am sharing my how-to for herb seasoned sun-dried tomatoes. I tried to share my all time most requested recipe for Pakistani Beef Curry but the linky tool says that my url is too long :-(. Is there anyway to change that part of the link up? Here is the link up here in case you aren’t able to change that. It really is fabulous! I didn’t have any issues linking up anywhere else, so perhaps it is just the way your link tool works..

      My Most Requested Recipe Ever – Pakistani Beef Curry w/ vegan option

      • Hi, Adrienne! I didn’t experiment too much to figure out what the limits are. I will try to pop into Simply Linked and see if I can change the settings on that. In the meantime, as a quick fix, I shortened your link by plugging it into bitly.com, which is one of many websites that shortens links, and then put the shortened link into the little slot. This is what it came out as after shortening:

        http://bit.ly/qEZ9HR

        Thanks for sharing the herb seasoned sun-dried tomatoes AND the beef curry recipes! I look forward to trying to beef curry!

    2. I love what you have to say about talking. We are big talkers here, too. I’ve already “served” a glass bowl with random questions written on folded up papers for conversation re-starters in groups that are getting to know each other. Privilege to pass is allowed, and there are always appreciative comments on the “game.”

      • Thank you for sharing your idea of passing the glass bowl of questions. I like that it seems almost like another course in your meal together. And privilege to pass is a great idea for those who are super shy.

    3. When we have big family get togethers, our girls and their cousin all talk at once. I can’t hear a thing, but they seem to drink it all in. I love your story of the conversation and how everyone enjoyed the evening without a movie or ball game!

      • Maybe some people are just afraid that they will run out of things to say. That may have been the case with our friends–a movie is an easy thing to plug in and stare at if words fail. :)

    4. Our seven-year-old grandson is coming today for the weekend. He no longer asks to turn the television on….he knows we’ll watch a little bit, together, after dinner, after bath, before bedtime stories.

      PS: I hope apricots count as “food.”

    5. Our grandsons come to visit almost every 2nd weekend, and this summer they were with us for 2 months. When they’re here, we make every effort to sit down as a family every night and eat supper together. I think it’s the only house they are ever in, in which the family sits down together for a meal.

      When I was growing up, we always ate together and we talked during the meal. Nothing so formal as prepared questions (although I have no objection to that). Mostly it was Daddy and Mama telling stories about when they were growing up or first married.

      If we had company, sometimes we played cards, but mostly the entertainment was conversation. My dad was a great story-teller and it was during these times that we heard some of the same family tales over and over. Now I realize that that was a good thing, because it ingrained them in my memory. I wasn’t wise enough to write the stories down, and now both my parents are gone, so about all that’s left is what we can remember ourselves.

      I always knew when my dad didn’t like the company because he’d leave the t.v. on.

      • Carla, I love these stories! The first one warms my heart that you can be a place of sitting down and sharing a meal together, and your history of mealtimes is marvelous. I love the last line.

    6. Wow. There is some serious food here. I am all about those mango pancakes. Thanks!

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