And then reality hit

Hosting Adventure Part One, Days Two through Four

“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”  –Benjamin Franklin*

*The Internet is almost always wrong about quote attributions, as is popular culture. But I haven’t the time or the interest for investigating. Take the Franklin attribution with a huge grain of salt, would you? Someone said that dreadful thing about guests. In my experience, which seems a bit kinder to guests, it happens around day two, not three, and it’s more that they’re blindingly annoying, not smelly. But I didn’t invent bifocals or lightning rods. Allegedly.

The first thing I learned in the past few days to always keep in mind that I’m an introvert by nature and should never engage in an endeavor wherein I will be with other people for the entire day. Or, for instance, for four days in a row without break. Or, for a more ludicrous instance, seventy-eight days. Or so.

This is not, of course, entirely about our lovely international visitor. She has a full-time job and leaves the house nine hours a day. My children have no jobs but still leave the house a few days a week for a few hours. And Spouse has a full-time job that has him traveling 14 out of 15 days this month.

And therein lies a bit of a problem. I had the lack of foresight to allow the universe overlay a new housemate with a houseguest with an absent Spouse with the last week of school. Silly me. Note to self: work harder to plan things out of your control. If not able, self flagellate, then try again.

So remembering that I should never agree to be an extrovert isn’t really learning something.  But I have learned that things we take for granted in our daily lives can be quite shocking to foreigners. I received a text on day two that Rosí, visiting this summer from the Dominican Republic, is terrified of elevators. Never been on one. Didn’t like it one little bit. I did not see that coming. I guessed about the washing machine and the dishwasher.

I did anticipate that she would be confused by the fact that my husband does our dishes and laundry, and that my father cooks all the meals at his house. She told Dad that she would never get married because she can’t cook well. He told her to find a man who cooks. Or to find a man who likes bad cooking. I told her she doesn’t need a man.

Guess which one of those suggestions will be useful to a young woman back in the DR.

Exactly. None of them.

As much as I prepared myself for differences from one culture to another, I thought the primary differences would lie across the Dominican vs. Californian divide. But after a few days of this arrangement, I’m beginning to believe that our largest chasm is that between 40 and 20. Between mother and unattached university student.

Let’s just say I apologized to my visiting father at least a dozen times for my…um…shall we say world view?…when I was 20. I don’t now, as a professional straddling two careers while staying home to raise my boys, shop for leisure. I don’t do anything to my nails. I don’t care about my hair. I have worn the same clothes since I settled into this size a year after my son was born (often for several days at a time without interruption.) And I don’t think this young lady has any interest in the things I find fascinating. So we’re evenly baffled by each other’s priorities.

Rosí and I are going to have a talk tonight because I think one of her primary sources of discomfort is that she doesn’t know if she can ask for things to be changed. She is very direct, which is a cultural norm for her country, but she also seems shy about being impolite. So she tries a food and says without cushion or caveat that she doesn’t like it, but later tells one of us that it needed salt. Goodness, woman, just ask if you can have some salt; don’t starve. She had a cup of tea at work that she described as being dreadful. But later when I made her tea, she said it was just as bad. Until I told her to put more sugar in it. That made her happy. But did she not know to ask for sugar? Did she think it would be rude? I have to tell her that asking to add something to food is okay.

Update: never mind. On her request, I made spaghetti. I freely admit to using jarred sauce. She asked if I forgot the salt, went to the cupboard, got the giant sea salt bottle, and added at least a teaspoon, if not more to her bowl of pasta. Um, she’s not shy. She just really hates anything without Wile-E.-Coyote-allum levels of salt. Fair enough. She just likes potatoes with salt and pasta with salt and crackers with salt. And cheese.

I think I might be in love.

Hosting Adventure Part One

Part One, Day One:

Our international house guest has been in my care for twelve hours. She’s what I hoped for: a delightful, funny, adorable creature who is teaching me a lot about her culture, her country, and the perspective of an Internet-generation adult.

Proto-adult, really. She’s twenty. I had forgotten how important things like clothing and leg-hair removal mattered at twenty.

Our new friend is gracious. She’s been thanking us for everything at each turn. And as I prepared dinner, without being asked, she wordlessly went through the house tidying. As I made lunches for the boys for tomorrow, feeling a bit frustrated that I’ve added another child to might daily chore list, I asked if she wanted to make her own lunch or if I should do it. She furrowed her brow and said, “It would be easier if you do it. But starting tomorrow you must give me responsibilities for the house. I feel as though you’re my mother, and I don’t like doing nothing.”

Díos, mío, how I’ve wanted to hear that from my children. And now, only one day old, this most recent newborn has uttered the words I’ve wanted to hear for years. “Give me something to do that will help you; it’s unfair that you do so much for me.” The other two keep demanding that I help them dig up the garden and pour the dirt all over the pathway to “make a new road.” Here’s a third child who wants to learn how to use the washing machine so she can do all our laundry.

And as impressive as washing machine is, there are many more items we take for granted that have shocked her. She really doesn’t understand “heater.” She can’t stop examining the hardwood floors and the fireplace. She’s poked around the latter three times, as though it might go away if she doesn’t check in. She told me that if someone put wood on their floor in the Dominican Republic, people would think he was crazy. She asked what she was hearing when I turned on the clothes dryer. As I explained, her eyes grew bigger. Slightly bigger than when my three-year old threw a plate at a cafe. She explained in three words and one gesture that in her country, he would have a handprint on his face.

But the biggest jaw drop of the day was when I explained, in detail, what an automated dishwasher does. Her eyes simply wouldn’t blink as she breathed, “magic.”

It is. Think about it.

When we selected some blackberries in the store and sampled them after they were in the cart but before we paid, she was shocked. She looked around as though the grocery police would grab her and throw her from the store. I’m pretty sure she checked her pocket for her passport before she bit the blackberry.

She returned the favor by shocking the heck out of me. If you pay your electric bill and your water bill in the Dominican Republic, you sometimes get electricity. You sometimes get water. But not often, really, and not predictably.

And if you don’t park in the garage at night, your car, or bits of it, will be stolen.

I’m sure we won’t always be able to impress each other. There are some things that are bound to be issues. Hosting a foreign exchange student for three moths will not be as easy as it has been the first half day. And I have only seen glimpses. We’re Berkeley vegetarians. She’s a Dominican carnivore. We eat as much local, whole, unprocessed, organic food as we can. She prefers soda and juice to water or fruit. She told me tonight that, when I make her cheese, mayonnaise, and ketchup sandwich (oh, wow, I just gagged a little), for one day it’s okay to use whole grain bread. But otherwise, that’s for people on diets and she’d prefer heavily processed bread. The delightfully squishy kind where the nutrients are stripped then painted back on. My words not hers. Except the diet part. Seeds and grains are for diets.

Tongue still bleeding from the self-silencing.

She gets significant respect for trying, though. I’ve had her try veggie chorizo, hummus, and a smoothie. On her first day. Hummus is good, she said. But not for sandwiches. Veggie chorizo? “Spicy? Is that the name for this feeling? I don’t like spicy, I guess. I changed my decision.”

So now that I’m better informed than I was during last night’s panic, I can tell you that this university student, with aspirations of a masters degree from a university outside her country, has an impressively open mind. After I explained why we have four different ways of disposing of kitchen waste, she wondered aloud why more cities don’t compost and recycle. She didn’t bat an eye when I told her that Spouse is the guy who does dishes and laundry. She might even win over the little guy, who is quite choosy indeed.

We had a busy first day. There was a lot of hanging up clothes and trying on clothes and hanging them back up, then trying them again.  She brought a lovely assortment of sleeveless blouses and dresses. So I found in my closet several lightweight suit jackets (that fit, thankfully) so she can make it to work without freezing to death.

Because I would hate to lose my new, cooperative, conscientious child to hypothermia.