I am, it turns out, not a particularly good house guest. I know this because I’ve spent a good portion of my life living with people who weren’t my family and the reactions have been mixed.
This all started when I was at Kansas State University. At the time, K-State had a summer program–the name of which escapes me–that was modeled after the US Peace Corps. We were assigned to various small towns in Kansas and took special courses that required us to work together as teams to learn about the town and who the key players in town were and what our town’s prospects were. We traveled to the town a couple times to do research and then we assembled all that information into a report that served as our final grade. We then spent the summer in the town living with locals who’d volunteered to host us and doing the work the town had brought us there to do.
My first town was Oskaloosa, Kansas and our team was responsible for helping promote the county as a retirement area for affluent retirees–or as I dubbed it: move here, build a house, spend a lot of money, die. (Yes, that’s exactly the spirit that makes me so loveable to have in your house.)
The problem with me living with other people, even if I follow all their rules, is that the introvert in me pretty much just wants to be left alone. With my first family, I thought that keeping to myself was the best thing to do. I’d stay out of their hair and just be part of the furniture. In retrospect, however, this made it seem as if I only joined them for meals which pretty much made it seem as if they were my servants. It didn’t help that at least one member of the couple had a grand vision of us all being very much like a family. This person never understood that this was pretty much how I behaved around my own family.
My next two hostings were nearly ideal. In Kansas City I was housed with Mary Ann Flunder and her family. She remains one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met and her family was busy enough that I had a lot of time to myself. She did her best to get me to network with the some of the people she knew, but I wasn’t smart enough to recognize a good opportunity and how to exploit it. My last hosting was in Jetmore, Kansas. My host was a single man who was always away from home working. I think he was home barely five days the entire time I was there. Basically his casa was mi casa (that’s like modern Spanish or something) and I had a great time, even though our job was to help develop tourism around a reservoir that had no water in it. (I think it does now.)
What really woke me up was my host family in Albania. Once again, I tried to keep to myself and didn’t realize I was basically being rude. Eventually I was moved out of their place and, through an incredible comedy of errors, ended up homeless and housed in a hotel that had been nicknamed “the monkey house” when it housed visiting Chinese but had become known as the “hotel death” after someone had been killed there. (Yes, that’s right, the Peace Corps housed me in a place called “hotel death” which pretty much sums up our Country Director’s opinion of me.)
From there I ended up living with a US professor and his wife for a couple months whilst I found a permanent place to live. She was especially sympathetic because she’d been abandoned when she was young and felt a certain kinship with me. They remained friends long after I left Albania and I’ve always dubbed them “Mom and Dad Two”. Eventually I got a place of my own and became the proprietor of a rather grungy hostel.
I get along better with She Who Must Be Obeyed’s family, although I still rebel, sometimes without even realizing it, against Japan’s group orientation. The hardest part is convincing them that they don’t have to entertain me. I’m not actually bored, just boring.