Have you ever met a reindeer herder?
Neither had I, until recently, when I shared a meal with foreign diplomats. The concept of dining with diplomats was new to me just a year ago, but in that short time, my husband and I have had the pleasure of hosting wonderful people from around the world. Are they friendly? Absolutely. Do we have things in common? Always. Do we share the same cultures and viewpoints? No, which is what makes the evenings so memorable. Dining with foreigners has been educational, eye-opening, and rewarding! Here's a taste (pun intended) of what our most recent dinner was like.
Our guests arrived with big smiles and friendly handshakes. As they introduced themselves, my husband and I heard smooth English with exotic accents. Finland, Austria and Greece were their home countries. We quickly learned about their recent travels to Washington D.C. for this states-sponsored program and how Iowa has been a welcoming state with strong immigration.
We sat down to begin our meal, sipping classic American lemonade, but without the ice as Europeans often do. Pirita explains she's from northern Finland's Sami tribe, a semi-nomadic people who herd reindeer. We kindly joke if there's a Santa where she's from and she happily responded that there is indeed Santa's Village! She goes on to explain this tribe lives in teepees, braving the cold-weather months and keeping warm with reindeer fur. They sleep under the beautiful Northern Lights while living on the land that provides them everything they need.
In that moment, I think of how different it must be for her in our Iowa home. I wonder what is most surprising about our normal way of life - is it the food, the decor, the way we interact, or all of the above and more?
This is our third time hosting diplomats through a program at the Iowa International Center. Each time has been with friendly and interesting people, from Haiti to Africa and the Middle East. Even though there are differences in our beliefs and ways of life, sharing a meal together is a universal act that brings us together.
Our conversation seamlessly transitioned to the refugee situation in Greece and Austria, of which our diplomats are very involved. We learned more about this crisis and their work life as a whole. Between bites of tostadas and spring salad, I wonder what common meals are in their homes. Soon the topics of discussion became food, home life, and sharing engagement stories as if we've known each other longer.
We wrapped up the evening by stepping into my 'garden' (I'm now preferring this term over 'lawn'!), and taking a group selfie. The universal 'selfie', just like the dinner we shared before, is the perfect reminder of how much we have in common, despite where we live in this big world.
Meeting these kind and dedicated people from many walks of life is truly a pleasure. My hope is they felt welcomed and take home positive experiences from their time in America.