Only one in six people (17%) would invite a neighbour for dinner if they had food going spare, according to research conducted for the Methodist Church by YouGov.
So begins the latest press release from the Methodist Church. That’s an interesting statistic, but what does it mean? Does it indicate a lack of generosity – or that I don’t know my neighbours well enough to invite them for dinner? For example, our next door neighbours are both families, so it isn’t just a matter of inviting one person round, but several. The report continues:
The survey found that if people had a spare place for dinner 56 per cent would invite a friend, 18 per cent a work colleague and only 17 per cent a neighbour. A quarter (25%) of those asked said they wouldn’t invite anyone.
I find that last figure vaguely worrying, but even so I can think of all sorts of reasons why people wouldn’t invite anyone for dinner. I’m not sure it says anything about lack of neighbourliness. For some cultures, including the Philippines, sharing food is a mark of good hospitality, though it may not be so much a case of inviting someone to dinner than stretching the food available to feed whoever happens to be in the house at meal times. I’m not sure that is quite so true of white English culture, where for some people ‘come over for a coffee sometime’ may be quite a daring gesture of hospitality.
Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church, offers his thoughts on the survey
Sharing a meal together is a key part of community… We know people are incredibly busy, and that it can be harder to connect with our neighbours and local communities these days, but I hope that we can all find ways to spend more time with friends and neighbours. It is too easy to see these results as a sign that society has lost its sense of community, but I believe people want to share hospitality and sometimes all they need is an excuse to get together.
It’s hard to disagree with Martyn’s last point, but in the absence of any statistics showing whether sharing meals is becoming less or more common, it’s difficult to see quite what this survey is saying about hospitality, and whether hospitableness is an upward or downward trend. Our next door neighbour has never invited us round for dinner, but she does leave apples from her apple tree on her front wall for any passers by to take and on the rare occasion I’m working in the back garden we have a conversation over the garden fence. Sometimes hospitality is measured in smaller, but no less important, gestures.