“One of the most incredible God-gifts I’ve ever received came by way of my husband’s new job. His company was building a huge manufacturing facility near our home in Tennessee, and while it was under construction, he would train in Germany for a year or so. In other words, at mid-life we would have to – get to – live abroad.”Living in Europe is a very different animal than vacationing in Europe, so thankfully we had months to plan. Additionally, his company offered cultural training to ease the transition. Training was incredibly interesting and highly invaluable though we would learn not everything was 100% accurate. Between that and errant stereotypes, we never expected to become friends with German nationals, having learned that Germans don’t throw that word around as freely as Americans.
What a lovely thing to be wrong about.
Before I ever left the States, I had been invited (via email) to a breakfast Stammtisch. Loosely translated as “a regulars’ gathering,” Stammtisch typically brings people together who share a common bond. In our case, it was for women fluent in English, be they American, German or any other nationality. Our group met twice a month and everyone who participated was expected to eventually host or at least co-host.
Within ten days of arriving in Germany, our relocation agent, Vanessa, made the extra effort to pick me up and take me to Stammtisch at Belinda’s. Originally from England, Belinda owned, lived in and ran a bed and breakfast in a nearby town. From the first thing I noticed upon arrival – a hand-chalked welcome – to the last thing we did before leaving – a tour of the vacant B&B rooms, Belinda exuded hospitality. She reminded me that hospitality is best expressed in unrushed conversation with a focus on guests–not a frantic worry over what needs to get done.
When in a German host’s home, I learned a lot about German culture simply through observation. And I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Stammtisch would become formative in how I would play hostess in the future.
Breakfast Stammtisch was one of my favorite experiences while living in Germany and I was eager to introduce the practice once I returned home, except…
…my interest cooled to ice when my husband walked away from the job that took us to Europe. A “between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place” decision was made when we were faced with extending our one year assignment to three. While we were able to manage logistics for one year, given the ages of our children, we couldn’t handle two more.
We faced unemployment and an uncertain future.
Thankfully, he landed several offers within a few months. Five months later he joined a company that would move us three hours south.
Starting over, living in a small apartment, and not knowing a soul put my hope of introducing Stammtisch on further hold until two things happened:
I attended Allume in October, a faith-based blogging conference whose 2014 theme was Hospitality (my heart began stirring…); and…
…I learned of a new site that whipped the Allume stirring into stiff peaks, one whose creative founder was following a holy prompting to build an online space whose “mission was to practice “brave hospitality” and challenge, encourage, and inspire others to do it too.” That site was GraceTable.
Allume was a fierce reminder of what makes my heart come alive – opening our home to others – which I had excused away one too many times because of inconvenient circumstance and wobbly excuses.
After a few conversations with GraceTable visionary Kris Camealy, I accepted her incredible invitation to join the site as a writer. Just talking about the heart of GraceTable energized me; it was like looking into a mirror and seeing a clear reflection, FINALLY, after years of seeing an obscured, unfocused view.
I genuinely sensed the Lord was telling me, “Now, baby girl…! I know you from the inside out, now, go…bless others as I’ve blessed you.”
Before I could change my mind (and before I fully thought it out), I emailed invitations to practically everyone I’d met in our new hometown, 43 women in all. While I would have been happy if everyone said yes, inviting that many people was a calculated risk: my kitchen table seats six comfortably and maybe eight squashed tight.
There were at least five things my German Breakfast Stammtisch taught or reinforced to me:
1. Just Do It.
Repeatedly, I’ve advised my children to “Be the one to BE the one.” Practicing brave hospitality means saying “Yes” to opening your homes to others. My German friends were continuing a long-held practice, so it was a little easier for them to host rather than initiate something new; but their example inspired me to be brave and at least try.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful” was my mantra leading up to our inaugural Stammtisch, a phrase oft-advised by my wise friend Nester. We ended up with around 15 women that day. In order to accommodate seating for everyone (Stammtisch is a seated gathering, not as much a time to graze), we moved my dining table to my den. I borrowed two folding tables and lots of chairs from my friend Judi. There was barely room to get around my kitchen–where all the food was and where we ate. My dishes were mis-matched because I had to use everything I had. Janky has never been more beautiful to me :).
3. Regularity is underrated.
There’s something lovely about an on-going social outing that doesn’t involve gift-giving or great expense. Because dates are established at the beginning of the year, you have something to look forward to all the time! Because our German way of life wasn’t as hectic as it is here, I was realistic about setting the calendar. During summer and busy months, we only meet once; on the months we meet twice, one is at a local coffee shop. This takes pressure off of finding hosts while providing continuity for our gathering.
4. Don’t say “no” for others.
A lot of my new friends have deep, deep roots in this place; they have “enough” friends already, some of which go back to grade school. I almost felt bad inviting some of them to Stammtisch because I know they don’t need one more thing to do. And yet…several still came! I forced myself not to assume “no’s” for those I sensed were too busy and invited them anyway. One of these deeply-rooted ladies was the first to volunteer to host our next gathering. She may not “need” one more thing, but she loves the idea of meeting a brand new cast of characters.
5. It’s not about you, anyway.
Stammtisch is simple hospitality, a celebration of life and friendship. It’s never about the host or any one person. It’s taking a few minutes out of hectic lives to engage one another in conversation, to catch up on personal news, to learn about places to travel, books to read, movies to see. It’s providing opportunity and atmosphere for friendships to be established and nurtured.
I was fortunate to find a community of friends quickly when we moved to Germany, largely because of our twice-monthly Stammtisch breakfasts. And though I waited over a year to bring the tradition to our new home, the response has been sweet confirmation that people are hungry for real life connection.
Please share your thoughts–I’d love to know what prompts you to open your home to others, and why you think it’s valuable to do so!