Meal Time

My Japanese friends Rina, Mei and Mizuki mixing up the guacamole for our Mexican night.

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_images_carousel images=”3801,3800,3799,3802″ onclick=”link_image” custom_links_target=”_self” mode=”horizontal” speed=”4000″ slides_per_view=”1″ autoplay=”yes” wrap=”yes” img_size=”medium”][vc_column_text]Mary is a sophomore studying this semester in Angers, France. Check in each week for posts from Mary and other bloggers as they share their experiences abroad.

I eat three meals a day. Actually more like four, if you include all of my snacks. But back home, with my busy schedule of classes, sorority engagements, homework, student media, sleep and social life, meals existed as something to cross off on a long, stressful checklist. This phenomenon occurred even before college. Even though my family ate dinner together most nights, it often was a rushed event unless it was some sort of special occasion.

In France, however, mealtime has significantly grown in importance for me, and not only because the food always is exceptional–seriously it’s so amazing. It has become a cornerstone of my social life and a foundation for new friendships.

I live in an international dorm with students from Japan, China, Scotland, Spain, the U.S. and France. Though our meals are prepared during the week by a French chef, we all have to fend for ourselves during the weekend.

When I first learned I had to make my own food, a little bit of panic and annoyance came over me. Panic because I know how to make really good guacamole and that’s about it, and annoyance because cooking significantly increases the amount of time a meal takes. I still was in my mindset from back home, where efficiency and speed were paramount in meal preparation.

Then a group of Japanese students in the dorm approached my friend Abby one weekend and offered to cook a meal for us on Sunday. Dinner time came, and I immediately was impressed with their prowess in the kitchen, making everything from scratch and working together. As we ate, the girls explained to us the cultural significance behind the dish, and we chatted long after the meal was over about the differences and similarities between our cultures–fun fact: we found a shared affinity for man buns.

Another weekend, a French girl in the dorm kindly offered to cook us lunch, and prepared classic French dishes, croque monsieur and pain perdu, for us while she helped improve our French by sharing colloquial phrases.

My American friends and I were so inspired by the kindness of our fellow dorm-mates that we returned the favor last Sunday, preparing Russian crepes for lunch–one of my friends, Sabina, is a Russian-American–and Mexican for dinner. I got to wow the Japanese girls with my guacamole!

Though it was fun sharing international cuisines, the real benefit from my community meals went deeper than the food on the plate. It was the relationship we formed by preparing a meal together that had an effect on me. The meals I shared have altered my perspective on mealtime.

None of the other students in the dorm saw preparing meals as a task. On the contrary, they saw it as an opportunity to reach out to us, a social gesture, a gesture of kindness. I fully understood the power of this after not only having a meal prepared for me, but after helping prepare a meal for someone else.

My lifeless, practical view of mealtime has been replaced. Instead of rushing to finish the food on my plate, I’ve learned to focus on the people at the table with me and don’t mind lingering after the food is gone. Instead of being afraid to get within a few feet of a stove top, I look forward to joining my friends in the kitchen to create something together.

Mealtime is a time for community, an opportunity to share recipes and stories, and walk away feeling satisfied in more than one way. I hope to maintain this perspective long after I leave France.