Humans are a funny bunch, if you make the time to watch them. “People-watching” some call it – the chance to sit and observe fashions, movements, personal habits and how humans move as a group. It’s a never-ending show that is both comfortable and as easy to do as watching television at home.
The comfort of that passive moment changes when you step into the proverbial “screen” and participate. Not just by joining the flow at a metro, train station or airport, but diving in all the way and choosing to (gulp) eat with strangers. Bars serve that function to a degree, but there are other establishments, like Le Pain Quotidien, where a common table and sharing space are a key component of the experience. In their words, “our tables are where friends reconnect and new friendships are forged over the shared appreciation of delicious food and good company”. Sounds like home, but with strangers?
Who does that? Don’t we collectively try to shield our identities and avoid contact with the unknown? Remember Billy Joel’s rise to fame as he sang about this? The Stranger?
Ok – so let’s say that you want to try and break the mold of your comfort zone. Where to start? First piece of advice, don’t dive in on a couple enjoying a romantic table or a business luncheon. Instead, seek out common tables, like a Captain’s table, a place designed for people to come together.
Even with a massive table in the center of their establishment, Quotidiens first guests usually dive for the booths and surrounding seats. Sitting out in the open and meeting the unknown? Yes, that is brave. You can do it. How do I know? It’s kind of like watching you change your preferred cheese lineup. Huh? – say what? Day to day we meet strangers (like you) at the cheese case who profess to enjoy certain cheeses. Fine we say, you like this? Try that and…boom. Mind blown. There is always something greater than our imagining out there. Sitting down with strangers can be like that. Initially you may find it as scary – scary as trying an unknown, perhaps funky smelling cheese, but in the end you discover something greater.
I am advocating for bigger tables and the chance to pass the salt and pepper. Sit down at a table and pass them to a person not in your comfort zone. There is something humanizing about sitting down for a meal that I hope will bring sense to our world one step, bite, or cheese at a time.