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Hilf, Gott, heut und allezeit,
Mach uns bereit für die Ewigkeit. Amen
I heard this prayer probably 100 times while I was studying in the city of Jena, Germany, when I was on SST during the summer of 2009. It was recited by my host father before every meal we ate. It is a fairly simple prayer, but it was a good reminder that we were entering a sacred time. A sacred time not only of eating to keep up our strength, but also a time to relax, discuss the day, and get to know each other better.
For Germans, meal time is viewed a little differently than here in the States. As Americans, we are always in a rush to get to the next part of our day, or to be somewhere else, and eating is an annoyance that we need to go through in order to keep our bodies functioning. This is not so in Germany. Germans love their food, and they have very good food, usually in very large quantities, but their eating habits are much different than ours.
While I was in Jena, I do not think I ate a single meal with my host family that lasted less than an hour. Even our daily teatime at 4:30 p.m. on the dot (which I was surprised to find out is not just an English practice) lasted a good 45 minutes most of the time. Of course there were exceptions; if plans had been made to be elsewhere, mealtimes were sometimes shortened, but generally mealtimes would be in everyone’s schedule already, so that was usually only a problem for me.
You may be wondering how people eat for nearly 90 minutes without eating way too much, and the answer is simple: they don’t. Once the eating is done, they stay around the table and the conversation starts. I had many conversations with my host parents while on SST, and I learned a lot. I will say, however, it was hard to talk about world politics, or life before the fall of the Berlin Wall, or even (and this was a conversation topic one evening after supper) Guantanamo Bay, with a limited vocabulary in the German language. We made do, though, and I came to really enjoy and look forward to those times of conversation and fellowship at the dinner table.