Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Dinner party or just a communal table?

Posted by chinesecanuck on November 10, 2008

I was recently at a dinner hosted by an accquaintance of mine.  She’s a university student and is the president of one of the school’s clubs.  Most of the guests at her dinner party, which was held at one of the local restaurants, were members of said club, with the exception of myself and another guest.  The club was somewhat diverse:  Half were Asian (mostly immigrant or foreign (visa) students), one was South Asian, one black guest and the club president and VP are white. 

There was something about the dinner that bothered me.  It wasn’t because the executive wasn’t “ethnic,” but how people interacted with each other.  WIth the exception of myself, the other Asian guests only talked with each other, even after the host tried to get them to join in.  The dinner felt more like dining at a counter or communal table – it felt like two separate groups.  Some may suggest that language was an issue, but they seemed to speak English well enough to join an organization that was English-speaking only.  Discussion topics might have been an issue, since we spent some time talking about movies, music, etc…but it didn’t dominate the entire meal. 

There was a lot of self-segregation when I was in school in the 90s and early 2000s, but generally, people didn’t join clubs if they were only going to talk amongst themselves.  Of course, I’ve only met these people once.  They might not be like that outside of that dinner situation (or accept the post-dinner mall excursion invite) - after all, there were two outsiders (myself and another person) at the party.  However, that wasn’t what it looked like to me as an observer.  And it just bugged.

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4 Responses to “Dinner party or just a communal table?”

  1. A lot of shy people join clubs in order to make new friends. Maybe the guests were shy.
    Next time you see them, strike up a conversation.

  2. John, four of them weren’t talking with the rest of the group, not one or two. They were talking amongst themselves (sometimes even speaking English), but not with the other half of the dinner party. They know the president, but barely spoke with her.

  3. i’ve seen this with other ethnic groups so often, and i’m always mixed. sometimes it’s a language barrier. some other times is the question of openness: how open you are, how willing to interact, how willing to put your own stereotypes behind you and hear to what people have to say (even if you do not necessarily agree).

    and as i’m writing, i realize i place the blame on the ‘other’. that they should integrate. so let’s switch the discussion: sometimes it is the willingness and openness of the ‘host’ to include everyone – and this also means to change herself, to realize she doesn’t ‘own’ the place, so she doesn’t necessarily make the rules of what’s polite, important and what languages should be used.

    complicated.

  4. The hosts did try to include the other girls in the conversation. However, the other girls just didn’t want to. Even I tried to talk to them. Didn’t work.

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