The dining hall can be an intimidating place. Eating is a social bonding ritual, but social bonding rituals are stressful enough, y’know? Why add the messy, unpredictable beast that is food? Here are some handy dos and don’ts to save you from dining hall doom.
Don’t: Give A Damn If You’re Sitting By Yourself
Are you fourteen years old? No, you’re a grown-ass woman who happens to be a great conversationalist…Whether it’s with others or with yourself. You can be your own sparkling companion in the dining hall.
Re-frame the situation: have you ever been on one of those truly awful candlelit dinner dates? You take one bite of garlic bread and it turns to ash in your mouth as you have the crushing realisation you are trapped with a person possessing the interior life of a lampshade.
Savour your meal and embrace the lack of pressure to make small talk about Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Trust me, the deafening roar of silence is preferable.
Do: Remember Your Table Manners
I know, I know, that bowl of spaghetti is really delicious. But you’re not at home with only Netflix and your dog for judgement-free companionship. Remember your childhood brainwashing: eat with your mouth closed, perform your duties as an upstanding citizen and don’t fling food across the dining hall table.
We are all aware of the unique torture that is listening to/watching a messy eater. It’s wet, noisy and painful to observe – kind of like any Donald Trump speech.
Don’t be that person. Be the elegant and witty diner, chew neatly and refrain from spraying crumbs as you laugh at your own jokes. Your dog will still be waiting for you when you return home for the holidays.
Don’t: Get Too Hung Up On Your Appearance
Of course it’s tempting to dress up to the nines for your daily forays to the dining hall. Most of us see our outer appearance as an invisible suit of armour, especially around new faces/potential romantic leads.
If you want to attend breakfast, lunch and supper dressed like an extra from Grey Gardens, I say you are magnificent. But the point to remember is, unless you’re sitting amidst members of a strange, elitist fashion cult, no one is going to care what you wear or how many spots you have.
On the other hand, no way am I omitting this wonderfully bitchy input from the late and great Karl Lagerfeld: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants.” Help me, Karl. Help. Me.
Do: Broaden Your Horizons/Talk To Strangers
So, we’ve established you shouldn’t give a damn if you’re a loner at lunch/any meal of the day. But what to do if you’re sitting with people? People you don’t know? And you’re really not a fan of people anyway?
Obviously, you are not obliged to converse with the randomer chomping down a hamburger on the opposite side of the table. That being said, if you’re the sort of person who feels awkward simply walking past the only other person in an empty corridor, masking all facial expression to the point you look like a BOC (Bundy On Campus), then break the silence and talk to the hamburger fan.
The thing is, some of the greatest friendships are formed this way. Rather than befriending people according to whichever location you are both entrapped in – school; tutor group; office; nursing home – why not strike out? Sample dining hall ice-breaker: I see you’re a fan of hamburgers!