After the tea party

Almost six hours of conversation over tea and assorted goodies. (I made home-baked vegan apple pie and non-vegan biscuits!)

Somehow, the numbers always work out. Just enough people to fit around the kitchen table, perhaps with a few extra chairs and a piano bench.

Now the house is quiet. The dishes have been put away. I don’t feel tired, as I sometimes do after social events. I don’t feel like I’m buzzing. I feel grateful.

It’s amazing that in just three years, we’ve built these friendships. It’s amazing that when new people join us, they feel at home.

I enjoy this a lot. I enjoy creating a space where people can connect, and where they can wander off to bookshelves or puzzles when they need a break. People don’t worry about how to start a conversation because there’s usually one or two to join, and people ask questions to draw others in. It’s a very different dynamic from cocktail parties, and I find it to be a lot more fulfilling.

It took us a bit of experimentation to get here. Lunch and dinner parties were fun, but timing was complicated. I wanted people to be able to drop in whenever they were available and leave whenever they needed. Tea is so much better. When guests arrive, I simply pop home-made biscuits into the toaster oven and heat up the water. Potluck tea is much easier, too. Potluck lunches and dinners take coordination of entrees, and many of my friends don’t have good cooking set-ups yet. With tea parties, people can bring different kinds of teas and sweets, and everything goes well together.

I’d like to host a tea party every other month. It’s a great way to hear from my friends, meet people they know I’ll get along with, and see everyone grow.

I wonder: how can I translate this to other spaces? Can I create this feeling online?

  • @sachachua, there’s a warmth to a small group (i.e. less than 7 people) and being in person. Sitting in a circle, there’s enough people to keep the conversation energized, yet not so many that the conversation splits into subgroups.

    I compare this to the traditional Chinese dinner setting of ten people, where conversations invariably split into three subgroups (or more, when the restaurant becomes noisy).

    I’m comfortable working at a distance, and treat face-to-face time in small groups as a privilege to look forward to. Since I often use Skype as my preferred instant messaging platform — the chat is quite stable — I’ve taken to saving groups of individuals in an ongoing transcript of communications. When we’re all online, we can press the call button, and speak together. My international colleagues have become accustomed to this, so while shared transcripts don’t replace face-to-face or voice communications, they seem seem to help bridge those occasions.

  • It’s funny because we tried a few things for coffee and cookies get togethers for WISE, and settled on something like this. We book a space for a few hours, bake, and people show up when they want to and leave when they have to go. There’s a flow of people, and less pressure, so people seem to connect more. It’s nice.

  • David: Yes! Isn’t that interesting? I find the round tables in Chinese restaurants to be bit too big for whole-group conversation, too.

    Hmm, I haven’t tried initiating multi-way audio conferences on Skype just whenever. Do you do those spontaneously, or do you start off with an IM-type conversation first?

    Cate: I know! It’s great not having to commit to being there for the whole time, and making it easy to fit connecting around other things in people’s lives. =)

    One of my role models for this is a relative of mine who hosts lunch every weekend. She has a hot buffet prepared and lots of places set, and people just drop in whenever. Maybe someday I’ll grow into being able to do that, if I had the space and the staff! <laugh>

  • In Skype, after using the “Add Person” button, the conversation shows up with multiple names. The group can be subsequently selected to continue text messaging, so it can be a never-ending conversation.

    I always do IM first. My rule is that after 3 IM messages, it’s time to go to voice. Since we’re all on Skype, we just wait until everyone shows up, and then start the multi-way voice conference.

    I normally just use the microphone built into the laptop, but when we get into multi-way, headphones are a better idea … and/or have individuals mute themselves.