I don't have many friends. At least, not in Amsterdam.
I say that honestly and without any subtextual desire for sympathy. I actually see it as a good thing. It means I'm not drowning in social engagements (so I get a lot of work done and don't spend a fortune on coffee/wine) and it means that I really value the time I spend with those I am friends with here. I also believe that when it comes to friendship, never is quality over quantity more important, and I'm lucky enough to have a small tribe of truly incredible, generous, interesting souls to call my friends spread over the world. Even luckier for me, I can add some sweet Amsterdam associates to this number.
However, a few months ago, as a myriad uncertainties and changes and scary things loomed on the horizon - thanks a bunch pregnancy - I realised that perhaps widening my social circle would do me good. As a short term benefit it would get me out of the house, and away from over-analysing my recurring anxieties. As a long term benefit, maybe I would meet some people I could call friends now or in the future.
One of my efforts was going to Dinner with Strangers. Not that it was much of an effort - an existing friend in Amsterdam tipped me off to the Facebook page - which I promptly liked and a few weeks later I was invited to attend the first dinner, hosted at the beautiful home of Simon and Rein in Amsterdam's Oud Zuid. Australian-born Simon is the brains and brawn behind Dinner with Strangers. It was his idea and he executes it with the passion and drive of someone who not only enjoys going to great efforts to cook a delicious meal - he drove to Belgium to get white asparagus especially as the Dutch asperge was not yet in season! - but he also "gets" the overall idea behind it, i.e. that there is something special about sharing good food and good conversation with other people who value these same things; does it matter if they are strangers?
It's not easy walking into a room of complete strangers. I'd forgotten that. But I remembered that evening that when you meet new people nobody really expects you to do anything other than be nice, listen and offer snapshots of your own story. You don't have to perform. You don't have to make everybody love you. You just have to smile and relax. The likelihood is that they will then do the same with you.
I found Dinner with Strangers to be a real success. There was the perfect balance of variety in my dining companions, consistent deliciousness in the food and two warm and generous hosts who made me feel incredibly welcome in their home. And as for making friends, well I've already had a coffee with Simon (I left my hat there which he kindly returned) and I'm working up the courage to invite some of the other people I met over for a dinner I'll cook... or maybe for drinks I'll make... one sunny summer's evening soon. That's a pretty good start, don't you think?
Now see for yourself the food and atmosphere I so enjoyed.
You can take part in a Dinner with Strangers in Amsterdam through With Locals or by liking the Facebook page. I highly recommend you do, even if you're not living in this great city, but instead want to add a bit of local flavour (geddit!?) to your upcoming visit to Amsterdam.
Photos by Sam Garg and used courtesy of Simon Andrew.
Frances M. Thompson
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