Last year a friend of mine has posted on her Facebook wall a post about a dinner guest she had over, Simon. Simon is a regular guy... except... except that he took upon himself a challenge: 365 days of eating dinner with different people. At least one of them has to be a stranger; in return Simon will do a small house chore, tell a story or do something else the host wished him to do. And if there's no one to have dinner with?... Well.. then there is no dinner :)
This idea has stuck with me for a long time. I'm very shy with new people and the idea of sitting with a stranger at dinner table, stuck for sometime, terrifies me. What if we have nothing to talk about? What if they won’t like me... or I - them. This year is not just to try to make things myself, but to learn how to use resources around me creatively... to meet people that can show me different way of connecting to people, to challenge myself. That's why I've decided to invite Simon for dinner... my request from him - this interview:
How old are you Simon?
- 28 years old
What is your profession?
- At the moment I don't work, I'm a butcher by trade, 6th generation butcher to be precise. My last working place was in a slaughterhouse. Right now I'm looking for work after I’ve lost my job a while ago.
What made you decide to start this project
- The project got started on Christmas 2012 as a joke. I've been eating at different friends houses for quit a few nights in the row, since I couldn't go back home because I had to work. A friend teasingly suggested I continue doing so for a year. After that I've created the Simon's Social Experiment page on Facebook.
Where you drunk when you've agreed to this challenge?
- No no no. He was actually just kidding, but I thought "Hey, I can keep it up for a year". I thought it will just going to last for a week, but it just kept on going. More and more people liked the page and invited me for dinner.
So if you had no one to have a dinner with would you really have no dinner that night?
- Yes... So I would try really really hard to meet people to have dinner with. I didn't approach media because I really wanted people to invite me to have dinner with them, not because I've been on a radio or in a newspaper, not because of the hype, but because they really want to meet a new person... me.
Are you a confident person? Do you naturally love meeting new people?
- This experiment did put me a bit out of my comfort zone. People say I make contact very quick, but a year ago, when I've just started this experiment, you could never say that about me. If you've told me I would do this challenge for a year, I probably wouldn't believe you.
People must ask you the same questions over and over? Are you not sick of talking about same things every night?
- Yes! Haha... People do tend to ask the same questions, but it only takes a fraction of the evening. We still manage to have pretty interesting conversations after all that :)
Did you ever find any of your female hosts attractive?
Haha, yes. I'm really bad at that. I'm not some Don Juan and I never take action...
What kind of people invite you for dinner
- All kinds, all ages, mostly young, but sometimes older. I've met a 64 year old guy who wanted to take me canoeing, for example. People really open up to a stranger. When they know that you are a passer by in their life, they tell you their story, knowing that there will be no judgment. I've heard some amazing stories.
Lets talk about the food, what was the nicest meal you've had?
- It was right at the beginning, 3rd week of the experiment. A friend of mine I haven't seen in a long time has cooked me an amazing 4 course dinner. But the thing is... he always cooks like that, he just likes cooking...
What was the worst dinner?
- Also at the beginning. This lady invited me for dinner; she found my experiment trough thuisafgehaald.nl were there was an activity you could earn a badge with. She's barely talked to me... really made it clear that the only reason I was there was to help her out with her computer in return for dinner.
What was the most memorable dinner?
- The most memorable experience was the dinner with a group of asylum seekers that got rejected in their request for asylum. The group has lived on the streets for 5 years and when they finally got an apartment through a help organisation, they've invited me for dinner. We've eaten a very simple dinner of rice, potatoes and chicken. The fact that these people, who didn't have very much, shared their dinner with me was very humbling. In return, I've told them some Dutch as a way to thank them for their hospitality.
What was the most weird thing you had to do as a "pay back" for dinner?
- I got invited for a large dinner with students from a hotel school. After dinner I've asked them: "What would you like me to do?". They've replied: "You are tonight’s entertainment." I had to sing Witney Huston's "I will always love you" on karaoke machine (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=588104764551500&set=vb.393574047402146&type=3&theater (min 5.50)
So people don't always tell you want they want as a "pay back" for dinner?
- Not always... sometimes it's a surprise ;)
Did anyone ever ask you for a sexual favour?
- Haha, not directly... but in a way they did.
Would you write everything down that happens during an evening?
- One thing I would never do is to write something about personal subjects, sensitive conversations. I'm not after sensationalism. I'm not after fame. If a person opened up to me I will never publish that on my Facebook page... then no one will ever invite me for dinner!
Did you discover anything unexpected during this experiment?
- Yes! I never though I would be invited by strangers to their homes. I thought I'll go through my friends, maybe friends of my friends and will finish the experiment.
Also, you would think that this project would save me a lot of money, not having to pay for dinners for a year. Well, that was not the case. A lot of times I had to bring some ingredients for a dinner, maybe a bottle of wine. Sometimes I had to travel pretty far, spending 20 euro that day. I can have 3 dinners for that amount!
My goals where: To meet as many new people as possible, to go to as many new places as possible, eat things I never make myself. I could have never imagined that all this could be possible.
So what's after all this ends?
- First of all, I'd like to organize a meeting with all the people who invited me for dinner this year. Maybe a giant "pot luck". Then, I'd like to write a book about my experience.
Besides all this I'm just happy to see my friends, maybe date a girl. I still would like to meet strangers for dinner ones a week though.
Could I do this? No.
I'm too lazy. I cancel dinners with friends sometimes 'cos I'm too lazy to go out.
I'm just too shy to force myself to meet new people every single night
My friends would hate me. This project would make me not being able to see them for a year for dinner.
... and this was Nikolai's idea (so I can't even take a credit for this):
- We would like to try and invite someone for dinner every Thursday. Maybe a friend we haven't seen for a long time, an old work colleague, a neighbour, a stranger, a lonely person from the neighbourhood, someone who can't afford a warm meal that night. Simon told me to push myself out of my comfort zone... One Thursday at a time, Simon :)