Marianne Oh, the organiser of Death Over Dinner held at Crane, believes it is time to have an open dialogue about this, and many other conversational no-no’s. She says: “I personally have a problem with the superficiality of everyday discussions; the small talk and networking sessions that so many people are expected to attend feel forced and inane. I want to talk about things that matter.”
Seeking a break from her decade-long career in market research, Oh set off on a four-month trip during which she explored a different country each month with 14 strangers. It was there that she first encountered a Jefferson-style dinner concept, thought to have been conceived of by former US President Thomas Jefferson himself where everyone sits at one table and discusses one central topic that can be controversial, but not superficial. After attending a few of these dinners in Morocco, Oh went on to facilitate one on death herself in Valencia.
“I’ve been a facilitator for conducting market research for a long time,” she explains. “There’s a certain skillset involved, where you have to be able to read the room, and draw out some of the more introverted participants.”
Every dinner is different, notes Oh. There are usually between 14 and 20 participants, who are each encouraged to submit one question before attending the session.
The subject of death isn’t the only conversation starter. Oh hopes to explore other societal constructs in dinners to come, like midlife crises, urban loneliness, and the need for filial piety next.
Oh says: “Rather than focusing on menial exchanges which drain us, I want us to talk about things that matter so we can build more meaningful human connections that enrich us and help us realise that we all belong.