NYT Writing Prompt: Great Conversations

It sounds like laughter punctuating rhythmic, meaningful dialogue. It is unpretentious. Deep topics share the limelight with casual stories about how someone’s child woke up 4 times last night and the chaotic morning traffic in the new town someone else has moved to.

Everyone is sitting around the table, splayed out on comfy couches, or wrapped up in balls on the floor. People’s recent accomplishments are celebrated and mistakes are discussed openly. Nobody feels judged or like they have not earned enough stripes to be welcomed. People are there because they want to be there. There may be slow music in the background; the décor may or may not be to ones taste; there is always an array of food.

The above is what I imagine when I think of an evening sharing a meal and having great conversations with friends #goodtimes. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had to be able to travel to several countries and participate in occasions like this with people from different walks of life. Moments like these enable me to step behind stereotypes and Instagram filters to connect with ‘real’ people.

When I travel, make friends and share meals with locals and other travellers it reveals much more to me about culture than any book or Google search will ever provide. It reinforces the fact that despite what the media propagates, not all Africans are poor, not all Asians like Maths and not all Southern Europeans are lazy. It reminds me why I love cosmopolitan cities like London and Paris – and why although I will probably always be more at home with the black girl with the afro hair whose parents eat the same food as mine – I can still chill pretty comfortably with the young ginger father who is new to the south of France and wondering where he can buy Vaseline for his baby’s bottom. We have much more in common than we may initially think we do.

It also highlights to me how sad it is when people fail to enlighten themselves about those who are ‘different’ from them. It amazes me that in the 21st century, people still think that being young, black and male is synonymous with being slightly shady (this was demonstrated when at a 30th birthday party, a middle aged white woman interrupted my friend who was talking about his PhD topic to ask if he knew where she could go and buy some weed. N.B: She wasn’t asking him because she thought that he was hip and into trendy ‘alternative’ recreational activities).

Great conversations occur when people are willing to listen and be present. They occur on long bus journeys, via debates on social media and at dinners like the one I described above, but they also occur in silence when you take time for self-evaluation and are open to give yourself some home truths.

Let’s take time to get to know the people around us. You don’t have to go very far, just relax, be comfortable and start by smiling and saying hello to your neighbour. #goodtimes