Every Sunday night for 30 years, Jim Haynes has hosted a dinner party.
Haynes, a Louisiana native, has made his home in Paris for the much of his adult life. The dinner parties began when a friend happened to be a good cook and started preparing Sunday evening dinners at Jim’s place. The notion caught on. The host decided not to limit the fun to old friends. He developed a method for people to reserve spots by phone and confirm on Sundays. These days, he suggests that guests write their names on recycled envelopes and make 25 Euro donations to cover the costs.
After exposure in The New York Times, NPR and major newspapers around the world, Haynes has a waiting list most Sundays. While we were in Paris, I couldn’t resist the chance to join one of Hayne’s legendary soirees.
The night I went, the chef was a Northern California caterer and cookbook author. First-timers rubbed shoulders with folks who have been attending on and off for years.
I met a Berkeley researcher who specializes in French Middle Ages literature. He lived in Mexico as a child while his father made movies. He has a strong dislike for crows. I met a New Zealander passing through on his sojourn across Europe. I met a human resources consultant from New Brunswick, Canada. I met a news producer from NYC who attended a wedding in Zurich the night before. I met an Austrian children’s book writer. I met a Yale undergrad studying stained glass windows.
And ever so briefly, I met Jim Haynes. His celebrity doesn’t make for leisurely conversation, but his commitment to people meeting new people and putting themselves out there was inspiring. His tactics were not subtle.
“Did you two know each other before tonight?” he yelled across the room.
When the guilty parties nodded their heads, he continued, “Nope, that’s not acceptable. Go talk to somebody new. Introduce yourselves. Get busy. No talking to the person you came with. I better not see it happen again.”
He has no idea how many business deals, friendships and marriages have come from his Sunday night gatherings. People obey Jim Haynes. The awkwardness of balancing drinks, plates, utensils and handshakes pales as the evening ages. People gain confidence.
In his NPR, “I Believe,” segment, Haynes spoke about making introductions among his dinner guests.
“If I had my way, I would introduce everyone in the whole world to each other. I have long believed that it is unnecessary to understand others, individuals or nationalities; one must, at the very least, simply tolerate others. Tolerance can lead to respect and, finally, to love. No one can ever really understand anyone else, but you can love them or at least accept them,” he said. ?
You too are welcome to go, just call 00 33 1 43 27 17 67 to reserve your spot. If you’re not sure when you’ll get to Paris, maybe we can do the same in Acadiana. I’m game.