Share your Culture by Sharing a Meal

When you’re new to a country, staying isolated in your own cultural community can be tempting. We encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone by sharing your culture and traditions with your new neighbors. Getting to know more Americans will help you to become a part of America in a meaningful way.

And what better way to bond with people than through food? Consider inviting some of your new American neighbors, friends, and co-workers into your home to share a meal with your family. This is a relatively simple way to promote understanding between your culture and your new home country.

When you share a meal, you share your traditions and practices with your guests, opening their eyes to parts of your culture they may not have known about before. Their new understanding of you and your family can help you to fit into your community. Something as simple as hosting a dinner could be the first step in more people realizing that we are all more alike than different.

It may sound scary to invite complete strangers into your home and cook for them, but lots of people are now doing just that. There are many names for these events: refugee supper clubs, refugee welcome dinners, and diversity dinners. Whatever you want to call it, it still serves the same purpose—to break bread and break down barriers.

What is a Supper Club?

Generally, a supper club is a gathering of Americans and immigrants to share a meal together. Typically, the American hosts the meal by providing the location where the meal will be shared, either in a home or an event space. The immigrants bring meals that are representative of their home countries.  

The dinner guests are a mix of Americans and immigrants who may or may not know each other. Both parties are free to bring guests and are encouraged to speak openly about topics they may not normally discuss.

There are no rules that say this is how you must run a supper club—this is just to give you a basic idea. As long as you’re sharing a meal with your neighbors and bringing people from other backgrounds together, you can run the supper club however you like. The most important thing is that you are giving the guests an opportunity to experience a part of your culture that may otherwise be unfamiliar to them.

Start Your Own Supper Club

The organizations listed above offer some ideas on how to get started with hosting a dinner, but there are no rules—get creative and do it your own way.  

Inviting your guests

For your first dinner, it might be a good idea to start small and invite any Americans that you already know, as well as immigrants from other countries. Make sure your guests are aware of the date, time and place.

Let them know if they can bring anything to contribute to the meal. You could host a “potluck”, which is where everyone brings a meal to share—or you could prepare an entire traditional meal from your country. It’s up to you.

Etiquette tips

If you are sharing a meal for the first time with Americans, you may be surprised by some of the common meal etiquette practices of your new American friends. To give you an idea of what is perceived as a “normal” in America, here are some etiquette tips.

  • American place settings usually include a knife, spoon, fork, cup, and either a plate or a bowl, depending on what kind of food is served. Any more than that is usually reserved for special occasions. You don’t need to stick to this place setting for your dinner—in fact, this could be an interesting topic of conversation during your meal if you country typically has different place settings.

  • It is normal and not seen as offensive if a guest has their hands in their lap or on the table between meals.

  • It is normal in the US to eat with whatever hand you write with, compared to the European way of eating with your left hand and cutting with the right. A majority of Americans are right-handed and typically eat with their right hand.

  • Americans are usually taught to eat with the fork tines facing up in their mouths. The European way is to eat with fork tines facing down.

  • Americans often eat each part of the meal individually instead of putting different bits of the meal on their fork at once.

  • Meals in the US are usually served by passing dishes around to each person for them put a portion on their individual plates. It would be unusual to serve one large communal bowl that all members eat from.

  • It is common at restaurants for Americans to ask for a “to-go box” or “doggie bag” to take home the food they weren’t able to finish. It is not meant to be an insult to the cook, most American plates have oversized portions, and leftovers are expected.

  • It is not uncommon in the US, based on personal preferences, to serve alcohol with a meal.

Even though this is how Americans normally eat, you should serve and enjoy your shared meal as you normally would in your own country. The idea is to give your guests an insider look at how you would share this meal in your culture, although it’s up to you how strictly authentic you want the  meal experience to be. If your tradition allows, playing music from your country in the background could add a nice touch to the event and provide a good topic of conversation.  

Conversation topics

If you’re nervous about what to talk about with your guests, here are a few suggested talking points.

  • In your country, is this a meal you would make only on special occasions, or is this a typical meal?

  • Is this meal part of a personal story about your family history? Did a relative teach you how to cook it?

  • In your country, are there certain cultural practices for meals? Do you normally eat this meal with your hands? Is it considered impolite for the guest to add salt or pepper to the food after it’s been served?

  • In your country, is there a certain way meals are served to everyone at the table? Do the guests serve themselves, or is it tradition that a certain family member serves all the guests?

  • Do you have a typical mealtime prayer?

  • Are there topics of conversation that are impolite to share during a meal?

You could also talk about more general topics, such as:

  • Share the story of what brought you to America.

  • Welcome the guests to share what kind of jobs they have.

Hopefully after the meal you will have bonded with your guests and made some new friends. Keep the tradition going by asking your guests if they would be interested in sharing their own traditional meals or cooking food for a future dinner.

Join an Existing Club

If you’d prefer to join a supper club that’s already established rather than hosting your own, some organizations can help you find a dinner close to your home that you can attend as a guest.

These organizations are also helpful at walking you through the steps if you’d like to host a dinner yourself. They can provide the guests for you or give you tips on how to reach out to people on your own.

The refugee supper club is a slow movement in Oklahoma, but your involvement in any of the organizations listed below will help make Oklahoma and Oklahoma City a more inclusive and culturally diverse place to live.

Refuge Supper Club

The Refuge Supper Club has only been around for a few months but has already hosted successful Iraqi and Burmese dinners. The club is organized by Michelle Nhin, whose parents emigrated from Vietnam when she was young.

Dinners cost $60 to attend as a guest. Part of the money goes towards paying for the meal ingredients, and the rest goes back into the OKC immigrant community. The Refuge Supper Club’s website says: “Our mission is to promote cross cultural interaction and create a conversation with communities that usually do not interact with one another. Ultimately, the goal is to build natural relationships from these suppers and for both communities to gain understanding and empathy.”

Visit the website to find out details on the next dinner. Since they already have chefs lined up, you have the opportunity to eat a meal from other immigrant communities in OKC.

United Invitations

This organization is mostly based in Europe, but there’s no reason that you can’t follow their lead in Oklahoma City.

The organization has two websites to help you host a dinner or join one.

Europe: http://www.unitedinvitations.org/

United States: https://www.changex.org/us/unitedinvitations

The European United Invitations website opens with this statement: “By saying, ‘Welcome, dinner is served!’ you can let someone who has already been let into our country into our society as well.”

United Invitations also offers great resources on how to host your own dinner. The resources include where to find guests, how to plan out your meal, and how to prepare your meal. They encourage you to think outside of who you know by inviting community members you may never have met before.

They can also help place you with a group if you’d like to come as a guest instead of hosting your own dinner. If you do decide to host a dinner using their tips, be sure to let them know—your dinner could be the first on their interactive map for Oklahoma.

The People’s Supper

Based in the US, The People’s Supper is a website that offers easy resources on hosting a supper or joining one as a guest. So far there hasn’t been one in OKC, but maybe you can be the first to get it going. The website is a free service that helps connect people and communities. It’s not just for immigrants and natives to share a meal, but also people from different religious and sexual orientations. People from all walks of life take part in People’s Suppers to get to know each other better.

If you choose to host a supper, you can sign up through the website and they will provide you with a hosting guide. This guide will give you tips on how to keep the conversation going at your meal and how to organize a potluck—which is what they suggest, so you don’t have to stress about cooking for so many people. You’ll also get a 30-minute call with one of the facilitators, which will give you the chance to ask any questions and help ease some fear about hosting the dinner. You can invite your own guests, or they can help find guests for you.

If you’d like to join a People’s Supper as a guest, fill out the form on their website and they’ll try to match you with a host in your area. They ask you to answer some personal questions, such as what do you like to do on the weekend, what community you identify with, and also any food allergies/preferences, to make sure you’re placed in a supper that you can contribute the most to.

Refugees Welcome to Dinner

Refugees Welcome to Dinner provides hosting tips not just for individuals but also for companies and organizations. Anyone can host a dinner—organizations, businesses, individuals, or groups of friends.

If you’re the host, they provide you with a toolkit, which is free with a few guidelines to get you going. It’s up to you to find your guests, but they suggest you find immigrant guests through local resettlement organizations. It may also be a good idea to invite people outside of your cultural community.

The Refugees Welcome to Dinner website offers some great insight into the purpose of these dinners: “We know that good food and relaxed conversation can lead to great things—whether learning about local customs or helping someone prepare for a job interview. Sharing stories is a powerful way to change hearts and minds. Big or small, these connections can be life-changing. In fact, according to recent research, 64% of people empathized with refugees after imagining themselves in a refugee’s shoes. By breaking bread together, refugees and their neighbors may discover that they have more in common than expected.”

Let’s Feast!

You may find through hosting and attending dinners that we all have a different version of meatballs, dumplings, or bread—but different can be delicious. It’s amazing to see how different cultures can use the same ingredients but create meals that are totally unique and wonderful.

If diverse communities can come together to share more meals and conversations, our commonalities will become clearer and we’ll be able to appreciate our differences. No matter where we’ve come from, we all want the same things—to be happy, healthy, and accepted.

Well, we’re curious. Have you given any thought to what dish you would serve if you hosted your own dinner? Let us know in the comments.

1 Comment

  1. Michael & Eliane Bainum

    Thanks for sharing this information. We would like to start a diner club like this in Stillwater, where refugees and international students would feel welcome.