When I was a foreigner abroad, especially in the beginning, I remember how the best thing would always be if a local invited you home. It was almost like an unofficial integrational competition among the other internationals: how many Swedish homes have you been to? Being invited into someone’s home gave you access to the society you were in, to find out more about how the people lived here and what they liked to do.
Last Saturday, I had guests for dinner. It is something that happens every now and then at my blue table. Young people in their twenties usually from different backgrounds, often different nationalities gather around that table that was the first one my mother owned herself when she was in her twenties. I put on that Spotify playlist, light the brass candle holders and uncork the red wine. That’s what I always do and that is what I did last Saturday as well. Actually, it was like any Saturday dinner with guests. Just that those guests did not come from Sweden or Spain or the South of Germany. They came from Syria and they did not come voluntarily.
Last year, Ebba Åkerman, a Swedish language teacher for immigrants, came up with the brilliant idea of the “Invitationsdepartmentet”, a Ministry of Dinner Invitations. She realized that refugees and immigrants are “let into the country but not into the society”. That’s why she started matching natives and immigrants who met for dinner together.
In Hamburg, we also have hundreds of refugees. They live in container camps with other refugees and contact with Germans is scarce or lacking. For the Germans, the refugee question is mostly a political topic that is discussed in media, it’s numbers, not people. In short: Hamburg, like probably any German city, is a perfect starting point for a German Ministry of Invitations.
Through friends I contacted Tina, an inspiring young woman who hangs out with the refugees and helps them with trips to the authorities. I asked her if she thought it would be a good idea and if the refugees would be up for a dinner with us. They were.
Last Saturday, I had guests for dinner. Young people in their twenties, from different backgrounds, different nationalities: two German girls, my colleague Sarah and Tina, and two Syrian guys. A PR professional, an engineer, an English graduate, an economist. We talked about Hamburg, about studying, about food, about parties, about what our parents do. We told each other of our childhood homes. We could have been a group of exchange students. When you sit down for a casual dinner, there is little difference between these guests, refugees, and other international friends if you don’t choose to focus on it.