Monday, May 9, 2016

Living With Another Culture

My first year in Spain I had two options. Either, I could live in a university apartment with six to eight other girls, or I could really ‘experience’ the culture and live with a Spanish family. Of course, I wanted the experience, and I figured I’d be able to learn the language much faster if I lived with a Spanish family.

For a year, I lived with the most eccentric Spanish lady I’ve ever met. She was seventy or eighty years old, with big coke glasses and a shuffling gait. She and her sister were seamstresses, and they made my life interesting.

I wasn’t allowed to eat with them. They would make me a meal separate, and sit and watch me, to make sure that I ate it all. There were times like I felt like Hansel and Gretel, especially when she made comments about how skinny I was. I ended up getting sick because of how much food she forced me to eat, and the doctor had to tell her to listen to me when I told her I couldn’t eat anything else.

We had separate bathrooms, one was specifically for me, but at night, their bathroom was too far away, and they used mine. Every morning, I had to flush the toilet after them, because they didn’t want to wake me up in the middle of the night. Also, they didn’t like the fact that I used scented soaps, and at least two or three times a month, my soap would disappear, and it would be replaced with homemade soap that smelled like lye.

She also controlled when we had hot water, and most of the time, I showered with freezing cold water because it wasn’t time to turn on the water heater. The water heater was controlled by flame, and I wasn’t allowed to touch it.

During religious holidays, if I didn’t get home early enough, I’d be locked out of the house until Midnight Mass was over.

This woman was different, and more often than not, we didn’t have the same world views. But we learned to live together. I’m sure I have plenty of eccentricities myself, ones that she didn’t understand. When I came back after Christmas break, she was overjoyed. Apparently I was the first student who actually stayed the entire year without requesting a transfer. Over spring break, on my trip to Germany, I bought her chocolate, because I knew she would like it.

Too often, I think we see other people’s differences and assume we can’t get along. We aren’t willing to adjust for someone else’s lifestyle, or their little quirks. But if we don’t, we’ll miss out on so many opportunities, and so many friendships.