My wife and I usually take a winter cruise to enjoy warm weather instead of suffering in the frigid Midwest. The experience, however, is also an education. We have taken classes on folding napkins and taken a tour of the kitchen area where thousands of meals are prepared every day, as well as learning from a chef how to prepare seafood.
But because we signed up this time for My Time Dining, we sat with different people at most meals. You might think this is an uncomfortable way to select meal partners—complete strangers sharing a meal—but not necessarily. At breakfast one morning this week we were seated with nine people whom we had never met before. When we first sat down, all seemed to bury their faces in the menu to avoid contact with the rest of us.
Since teaching and training in communication have been my life’s work, I saw this situation as a special challenge to help everyone get comfortable. I began by looking out over the group and asking the general question, “Where are you all from?” All were from Mississippi and Texas and were made up of three different families. That began a good conversation on careers, sports interests, and family connections.
In the course of the meal I learned that one man, a steel worker, had created the mold to make McDonald’s McRIBS. Another had three engineering degrees and was very much involved with building drones for a Department of Defense contractor. A retired 80-year-old farmer had just sold several beef cattle for the highest price he’d ever gotten. (No wonder beef is expensive in the meat department of our local grocery store!)
This kind of education you will not find in a book, but you can get it by having a meal and connecting with a group of strangers you will never see again. I will forget the songs the performers sang in the theatre that night, but I will remember our breakfast companions for a long time. You don’t have to be on a cruise to strike up a conversation with the person you happen to be sitting by. In so doing, you will continue to be a student.