I talk a lot on this blog about food happenings, informal economies, and cultural tourism. So when my friend Molly invited me to attend one of the pilot dinners for her Knock for Neighbors project, I jumped at the chance.
Knock for Neighbors combines off-the-beaten-path tourism experiences with convivial community practices by sponsoring a network of residents who host visitors in their homes for dinner and conversation. This project is similar to Denmark’s Dine with the Danes (which has itself inspired a number of spinoffs), and has rural precedents in the practices of agritourism and farmhouse dinners, but what is really unique about KfN is the way it imagines not just a tourist experience, but also a neighborhood one. Knock on a door, meet a neighbor — this is a way for people to get to know each other and see their world through different eyes, whether they are from another country or right next door.
The dinner I attended was convivial and surprisingly un-awkward given its entirely uncurated collection of guests. Molly’s food was simple, healthful, and communally shared, and it was really cool because Molly didn’t even host the event in her own home. A woman who had attended a previous KfN offered her apartment and graciously invited whomever-might-come: diverse friends from around Boston and Cambridge, and a European-who-lives-in-London-and-is-in-town-for-business.
Speaking of which, I was discussing this program with my fiance who travels a LOT for business, including to foreign countries. We realized that this program seems especially well-suited to business travelers, who often are shuttled from one air conditioned luxury hotel to another with little time to experience the world around them. What if we gave opportunities for business travelers to become global citizens, and not just global businesspeople? Or to play devil’s advocate: how do we make sure that KfN-type endeavors produce “authentic” experiences instead of manufactured ones for visitors’ approval? The tradition of farmhouse tourism for example has certainly led to a certain artificial quaintness (such as in Vermont)…how do we keep projects like KfN as authentic as I experienced Molly’s dinner, instead of it turning into a kind of urban performance?
On a final, perhaps more abstract note, I really like the way these projects bring the public into the private sphere. Imagining that social interaction with people you do not already know can happen in a personal, internal space rather than the public domain has interesting implications for everything from how we build houses to what we do at public parks and more.
Despite these questions, I like the idea, and I can’t wait to see where it goes. And when I host one, I’ll let you know!