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How social meals helped me make friends at university

Blog |   31. Aug 2020

Debora Ceccato

Blogger

The ability to recognise a person’s laugh among a million is the best heart-warming sensation ever. There is no special recipe for befriending someone, but you can gain a head start by combining building connections and interacting with peers with one of the most primary activities: eating. This basic task can inspire long-lasting bonds.

When I started my master’s I had so many expectations. I wanted to experience a new country, new mindset, try to understand the culture and try my best to integrate in Danish society. I remember an expression that one of my dearest friends once told me: “you are not meant to live in a small village, but the entire world”.

So, I thought maybe a new country would be enough to ensure that my curiosity will be stimulated and where my creativity could thrive. Well, my productivity kicked in, and my cooking definitely received the boost it needed.

I’ve heard the funniest stories and the juiciest gossip while cutting vegetables

Let’s be honest, grocery shopping is not an easy task in the Nordics if you come from Southern Europe. During all the months I’ve spent in Denmark, I’ve always heard my co-nationals complaining about their Danish supermarket struggles. If dynamic pricing is available for flight tickets, well product dynamic location is a must in Danish supermarkets.

Don’t expect to enter a store and find items always in the same place, and nope, no mystical aisle signs helping you in your quest. Entering Netto is like playing a treasure hunt: you never know where to find your chickpeas. Fruit and vegetables are not of outstanding taste, but pretending to find the same comfort as the food back home is not your priority when deciding to move abroad.

You need to adapt your palate to discover new tastes, new combinations and experiment with unknown ingredients. This is the key for survival in Copenhagen.

eggs and flour

What I’ve learned is that you need to reinvent yourself and despite being an adult, you are still afraid of change and having to rediscover supermarkets is part of that, part of your self-discovery. Beneath all that complaining, there is another truth. People are not just extremely picky or rigid about their culinary traditions or even making a scene, but food is linked to memories and coping with the feeling of homesickness.

The stubbornness of preparing a meal which tastes exactly the same as the one shared with loved ones back home is incomparable and triggers powerful sensations in the body, both in the taste buds and mind. That’s why, when you invite people over for an international dinner, the host feels that extra pressure to make everything perfect and ensure that every small detail has been taken care of.

The trickiest factor of planning a dinner is not the cooking, no matter how bad you can be at it, but it’s picking an arrival time for your guests. Normally, in Italy, regardless of the set arrival time, guests don’t expect to arrive at the host’s to meet a fully set table and food ready to be served.

The arrival time is more of a polite time to say please show up at least half an hour after this specific time, as there will be a delay. The more dinners you organise or attend, the more accustomed to your friends’ delay time, so it becomes kinda funny when you schedule personalised arrival times.   Dinner time is 18:00. No further discussion is needed.

Smiles and laughs are the best part of it, I can’t explain: it’s the warmth derived from setting the table together, passing a plate to each other and placing cutlery at each place setting – never enough chairs though!

fruits and pasta

What I like most about inviting people for a meal is them slowly becoming part of the family. Welcoming people into what will become their second home. These people gradually stop asking where the kitchen utensils are, and just fetch them without hesitating.

It’s a joint effort: everyone contributes by bringing something, either an ingredient, some snacks or wine, things can never go wrong with that, but it will bring a new twist to the meal. I’ve heard the funniest stories and the juiciest gossip while cutting vegetables. For the record, red wine for dinners, rosé and mimosas are for brunch. Let’s skip the white wine, no one really likes that. Cheese makes everyone happy. “Do not trust anyone who doesn’t like cheese”, that’s what a friend of mine once said, and I completely agree with her.

This conviviality becomes a means to connect with people, with people soon to become your friends. CBS academic work is heavily group-based and eventually you’ll have to spend the entire weekend racing to finish that 15-page project. For one of my papers, I’ve started living in symbiosis with my fellow team members: we meet almost every day for an entire week, 9-21, to submit our project in time before the deadline.

You are not meant to live in a small village, but the entire world

The ability to bond over preparing a meal and sharing tender and loving care is incomparable while trying to hold onto your mental sanity during exam periods. So, social meals not only help with building relationships, but also create an intimate social experience as you get to know each other better in a primordial context. It would not be an overstatement to say that there’s no better way to bond with people than around a table laden with food.

So for all the newbies starting at CBS this autumn semester, don’t be afraid of arranging a social dinner with your fellow course mates to start getting to know each other. Due to online teaching, you won’t see each other in class that much, but there’s a better alternative to that.

Cheers.

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