Staying at the Thatch Caye resort in Belize was my first experience with communal eating.
The meals are fun — with such a small group (there were about 12 of us), and no menu choice (they do accommodate dietary restrictions) — you just go with the flow of what’s being served and when.
What sets it apart is the communal style of eating. At breakfast you’re sitting next to each other in the dining area — at lunch and dinner, there is a string of picnic tables, and everyone eats together.
My wife and I are both introverted. We’re just not that social — neither of us drink, and we don’t have a habit of hanging out in pubs or bars. Plus, we have an circle of friends where we find stimulating and substantial conversations, so we’ve lost touch in the art of small talk with people we don’t know.
Needless to say, we were scared coming to an island where we would be forced to talk to our other guests. Drinks are all inclusive, so we imagined it would be a bunch of drunk people, and not a crowd we could relate to.
What would we talk about? Would the conversations just feel violating? Would we be able to relax and enjoy having quiet time to ourselves?
Yes, we are able to relax and have plenty of quiet time to ourselves.
It was fun speaking with the other guests. Most of the couples were on their honeymoon. (Great honeymoon destination, by the way). But regardless, they were all travelers, so we had something in common with them.
(Well, most… there was a couple that drank a lot, but even they were nice. And there was a couple that we didn’t speak to until we were standing opposite each other in the immigration line back in the US.)
We met a cool couple from Denver: a guy works in the oldest fishing store — he and his new wife both like hot sauce and good food.
There was a young & quiet radiologist in training who described herself as boring, and yet this was her first solo venture outside the US, and while we only had one night to chat, seemed much more interesting than she let on.
A baseball writer and his new wife from NJ love their dog as much as we do, and anyone who loves dogs is instantly interesting, because let’s face it — dogs are awesome.
It’s not a super touristy island, most of the guests here are pretty chill and relaxed, which I guess what such a resort attracts. I’ve never considered myself as the type of person to go on vacation to sit on a resort beach, but this trip was stunning. And relaxing.
Everyone has a story, something interesting beneath the surface. Discovering that story makes people come alive. I guess the real art to small talk is opening up and being vulnerable. The more your guard drops, and you share your authentic self (even if you’re worried about what others might think), the more other people open up too.
Sometimes finding the right space to open up and be vulnerable takes time. And trust. It is trust which helps provide the courage to open up and be vulnerable and take you to the edge where conversations are interesting and engaging, and expose more and more of who you really are.
Also published on Medium.