Hosting Highlights Week One

Our guest from the Dominican Republic is teaching us as much as we’re teaching her. Today, after telling me how underwhelmed she is by not recognizing any of the food and not liking what she’s tried, she told me she’ll miss our country.

I asked her why, since she’s only been here a week, she would miss the vastly different culture.

“Because it’s comfortable,” she said. “Is that the right word?”

I tried to hide my surprise, since she seems decidedly uncomfortable with our 50 degree mornings and bouillon-free cooking. I asked her what she found comfortable about Berkeley.

“Because people here follow the rules. When I walk on the street I’m not worried about motorcycles driving over me or cars accelerating to hit me if I try to cross the street. Here I can walk and enjoy and look.”

That’s a pretty big cultural difference. I don’t even know what to do with that, really, except let it wash over me. Taking for granted being safe on the sidewalk (though I don’t, actually, since I lived in Santa Monica when the farmer’s market accident happened and since a friend was hit by a car right in front of the school as he picked his kids up for the day) is a rather large reason we are, in fact, comfortable here.

Rosí also told me she thinks it’s funny that my husband handles the laundry and most of the dishes. I asked what she meant.

“In my country, men do not clean. That is the woman’s job. Not very many men help.”

I told her something that might be common here, but is certainly foreign to her. “But I don’t think what he’s doing is helping. The house is not my job. It’s the whole family’s job. Everyone who lives here needs clean clothes and dishes and good food.”

To my surprise, she agreed. “This is exactly how I feel!” Well, then. I guess I only have to work on the whole grain bread and you’ll be as Berkeley as anyone else.

There are less heady matters, too. She taught me the Spanish for peanut butter. I taught her the curbside  difference between reuse and recycle. And that it’s “a few minutes” or “a little while” not “a light minute.”

We’ve taken Rosí hiking and berry picking, to a museum and several grocery stores. And long the way we’re polishing her English a bit.

She told me that she needs to eat more to gain weight. She says that she’s unhappy being thin, but that her whole family has this problem. In fact, “The fattest person in my family is my mother. She’s about as fat as you.”

Um, we need to work on the phrasing a bit. But as long as we’re being honest…

We’ll see as the weeks wear on whether I’m willing to ask her questions that puzzle me. For example, each time she meets a man in my life, she asks if he is in the military. There have been five different men about whom she asks about military status. I don’t understand this. Perhaps she came into this arrangement thinking that some man I know is in the military; or maybe she thinks a high percentage of American men are military personnel? I feel as though I should walk her to the Navy recruiting office and introduce her to a petty officer or two. Just to be able to answer “yes, he’s in the military. And so is she. Because women here do that, too.”

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