Though this is America, and though this is the South, there are nevertheless limits to the expected friendliness of strangers. And yet I found myself last Friday night wrapped in hot debate with two people over the relative merits of warm Connecticut and chilled Maine lobster, because we’d had the audacity to make different, neighbouring orders at the food truck rodeo.

In my short time on this earth, I have made many an order in many a queue, and not one has been in any danger of sparking conversation. The idea of speaking to another person based on as flimsy a connection as a shared like of seafood is, frankly, terrifying. Thieves, axe-murderers, even Duke basketball players, like seafood—better not to take the risk, says my unconscious brain (I assume. No psychology-majoring scholar was available at time of writing). I would never do it, and it would feel weird and uncomfortable if somebody else did it to me.

But something in the air that Friday night annihilated the lack of social confidence that comes free with a British passport. It didn’t feel weird when the alum behind me commented on my order, and it didn’t feel uncomfortable when I responded with a line and hastily assembled joke. His wife chimed in with a convincing defence of hot lemon butter over mayonnaise (Connecticut and Maine’s respective sauces), and before long I was happily spouting off about how heat really does drown out the sharp, meaty heft of lobster and that my mayonnaise lends a cleaner note of flavour than their overbearing citrus, full of the comfortable confidence and lack of any actual knowledge that characterises debate with my brothers over the dinner table.

And I think that really is the point here. The reason it was easy to talk to those strangers, the reason a conversation could spring up with no real basis and wander its merry way forwards, is because there was very much a sense of family in the air, in the evening, and across the whole weekend. The baseline assumption on meeting somebody new was not “Eek, stranger,” but “I’m probably going to really like them.”

Mistaking the back of an alum’s head for mine, a friend wrapped him in a bear hug from behind before leaping back, wide-eyed, at having just attacked the poor man. Four minutes and a chat later, they bear-hugged goodbye, grinning.

I miss home, and the people in it. They are far away, and an hour’s Skyping each week is little comfort. But as Tom Morris ’74 closed with, and as I love saying even when there are no non-scholars around because it makes me feel like I’m in The Godfather, “We are cousins,” and from the alumni to the current scholars to the Foundation staff, we’re family—and that helps a lot.

And, as it turns out, the hot lemon lobster was much, much better than my cold mayo one.

Monty Evans ’22 is a computer science major from London. He likes to read great stories, write bad ones, and take care of his bike, Samantha.