A message: please ring Jim Haynes in Paris on 00 331 4327 1767
Sunday 17 May 1998
If you're not interested, shame on you. Because Jim Haynes is one of the friendliest people on earth. He would certainly want to meet you. Not only is he willing to have his address and telephone number published, but he would like you to come for dinner with him one Sunday night the next time you are in Paris. Just give him a ring the previous Saturday to check that his guest list of 50 has not already been exceeded. He has been holding his public dinner parties every Sunday for well over twenty years and is still as keen as ever.
If you do go (and, by the way, there is a nominal charge for the food), you will find that the other guests will all be there for the express purpose of meeting each other. Beyond that, they will have nothing whatsoever in common. They will all be strangers, as will Jim Haynes himself. But by the end of the evening another 50 people of indeterminate global origins will have made some progress along the road of getting to know the world better.
Meeting new people, and introducing people to each other, is Jim Haynes' speciality. Especially when the people are people who would never normally meet. If you for example feel that there is a dearth of Greek grocers in your life - or of Mexican sculptors or French anaesthetists or American photographers or Russian librarians - then you are the kind of person whom Jim Haynes would love to have around.
No doubt this will sound like a dubious new religion to some suspicious people. What? Meeting strangers just for the sake of it? Incurring the obligation to be nice to people when there's no money in it? Is it a kind of networking? Shouldn't we bring our business cards instead?
Which would be slightly missing the point. But sadly, to judge by the public reaction when Jim Haynes tried putting his enthusiasms into print, it does seem as though the world is not quite ready for him. A few years ago, he began writing a guide-book series entitled People-to-People, comprising lists of people in various eastern European countries who were interested in meeting foreign travellers as a means of broadening their horizons.
Accompanying details included their ages, professions and hobbies. The implication in many cases was that the people listed would be able to help independent budget travellers find cheap accommodation, but it was by no means a purely commercial affair. Basically, it was a way for people of diverse cultures to meet up and compare notes about life - in other words, to do the thing that travel should be all about.
But as Jim Haynes now tells me in a letter, the fact is that hardly anybody bought his books and his British publisher has just remaindered the series.
Why? Alas, it seems that most of us need to have known each other for years before we can trust a person enough to want to have a drink with them. But in the backs of our heads there must also be a more serious worry: namely, that it is all very well enjoying wild evenings with Russian librarians far above the Arctic Circle - but are we then prepared, in exchange, to run the risk of having gangs of backpackers descend on our own homes at inopportune moments?
Actually, I am. There is no obligation to accommodate anyone. It's just a matter of spending an evening shooting the breeze with a stranger if you happen to have the time. I think that the idea was a great one and I hope there is some publisher out there who thinks so too.
And although I have never met Jim Haynes, I really must have dinner with him the next time I am in Paris.
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