Skype Dinner Connects Culture – the Virtual Dinner Guest Project

One of the classes that I am taking is now doing the Virtual Dinner Guest Project with the founders in Cairo, Egypt. Unlike other formal or informal public diplomacy activities happens between the U.S and the Egypt, the Virtual Dinner Guest Project is definitely more provoking in terms of getting people from both countries to know each other.

The founder Eric Madoxx is hosting the virtual dinner between Egypt and the U.S.
The founder Eric Madoxx is hosting the virtual dinner between Egypt and the U.S.

Some ideas about this program:
“The Virtual Dinner Guest Project is an international multimedia initiative born from a simple premise: It is harder to ignore, vilify or harm those with whom we have broken bread.

The nuts and bolts of the project are straightforward. Imagine making a videoconference call from your dinner table while you and members of your community share a meal and a moderated discussion with people in another country. There is some strategy involved in the selection process, as countries that share less than amicable relations are actively sought out. Countries that suffer from overly facile media profiles of one another are also a point of focus.

The dinner table represents the world’s oldest and most universal social forum. The Virtual Dinner Guest project draws upon this notion and then extends the concept of the shared dining experience across borders and cultural divisions. Imagine dinner tables extending into the living room of a family in Cairo, the Yale University cafeteria or a rooftop Café in Tunis.

The Virtual Dinner Guest Project has actually realized all of the above scenarios. The project first launched from the US with a series of Virtual Dinners that connected Americans to participants in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Kampala, Uganda and Karachi, Pakistan. The VDG Project ultimately intends to function as a platform for collaborative social entrepreneurship as well as a forum for international discourse.”

http://www.virtualdinnerguest.com/

6 thoughts on “Skype Dinner Connects Culture – the Virtual Dinner Guest Project”

  1. Anqi,

    Thank you for sharing this initiative and your experience with it in another class. It’s a significant example of many of the features of PD we have been discussing, from collaboration to relationality and more. I believe that during the negotiation process leading up to the Oslo Accords Palestinians and Israels cooked and dined together?

    When do we eat?

    -Debbie Trent

    1. Hi Anqi,

      Thank you for this amazing post. I agree that breaking bread is a creative way to conduct public diplomacy. Food tends to be associated with positive feelings, and allows your counterpart to step into your world in the most non-intrusive manner. We have seen top diplomats such as Hillary Clinton, while serving as Secretary of State, at the U.S. State Department, launch a new culinary diplomacy program, titled “Diplomatic Culinary Partnership: Setting the Table for Diplomacy” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the use of food “the oldest diplomatic tool.” Food has been a powerful diplomatic tool for State Department public diplomacy programs. When visitors return home for the United States they often mention that the best part of their exchange abroad was “home hospitality”, a part of the program where grantees are invited into an American home for an informal dinner and conversation. This is the most intimate part of the program and the most authentic glimpse into the lives of an everyday American. Who knows where this type of people-to-people diplomacy may lead?

      -Vanessa

  2. Thank you for your post and the comments, Professor Trent and Vanessa.

    The recent explosion of technology in public diplomacy efforts, diplomacy 2.0 if you will, cannot be ignored. The Middle Powers reading for this week spoke about the International Information Programs Bureau at the State Department and their new technologies that are taking PD to new levels. As a previous intern at IIP, I was able to see programs such as Co.Nx and the Ambassador introductory videos in practice. Co.NX is a great platform that allows international audiences in and out of the office, and in low bandwidth countries to join the conversation and actively participate with speakers in and outside of the government. The new Ambassador videos allow citizens of the host country to get a first glimpse at the new U.S. Ambassador before they arrive in country. Thanks to technology, they get an inside look at the Ambassador’s previous posts, their family, foreign policy goals and personal interests and hobbies.

    The VDG Project is yet another platform bringing different countries together. Although I do think it is a cool concept, I’m afraid that some things simply cannot be reenacted virtually–sharing a meal is one of them. Because the act of breaking bread with another person has such a deep meaning among most cultures, it doesn’t quite seem right to engage in it virtually. I am reminded of how smart phone obsessed my generation has become and how it negatively effects the caliber of engagement with each other day to day. We simply aren’t fully engaged. The nonverbal communication that occurs when you are eating with someone else, simple gestures such as passing the salt, making a toast, or serving someone else the mashed potatoes before serving yourself—those things are lost when you have dinner virtually. I think Vanessa’s point about international visitors truly enjoying the part of their trip when they are able to have dinner inside an American home speaks to this claim. Let’s not spoil one of the few technology free interactions we humans still have.

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