I mentioned around Christmas time that we’ve had some students living with us while they attend classes to learn English so they can enter American universities. It’s been such a rewarding experience in so many aspects: our family gets to learn about another culture; we get to share our faith along with our home; it’s a decent financial help; it makes our house feel more like a home in sharing it with others…..I could go on.
Fairly often, there are those awkward moments that arise from 1) Living with college-age boys; 2) Dealing with another culture, their beliefs & customs; 3) Dealing with another culture’s standard of hygiene and manners; and 4) Having a talkative little girl who doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut.
Since last July, we have had 3 students live with us, usually 2 at a time. Two of them have been from Saudi Arabia, and the other from South Korea; all young men in their early twenties. And since then, we’ve had our share of awkward moments.
“You tell him.” ”No, YOU tell him. YOU’RE the GUY.” ”But you’re better at confronting people than I am.” ”Still, on matters of hygiene, I think it’s best that he hears it from you.” ”Fine.” Lukus lumbers up the stairs, dreading to tell our first Saudi student that he absolutely MUST take a shower. The odor from his room is creeping down the stairs in an almost visible form, his presence at the dinner table makes me nauseas, and in two weeks’ time, we haven’t heard the shower run once. And yet, Lukus goes for the subtle approach.
“Hey Houssen! Uh, do you have any deodorant? Like this? I’ve got some extra if you need some. Have you figured out how to work the shower knobs? Oh, okay, good. Alright, see ya.”
Two hours pass and the shower hasn’t run, and Houssen comes downstairs, walks out the kitchen door to take a smoke in the backyard. I’m painting our pantry. Houssen comes back inside, adding the smell of cigarettes to his personal odor, and I stop him.
“Hi Houssen. You need to go take a shower. Right now. You stink. You need to take a shower at least 3 times a week, okay?”
Houssen smiles his charming boyish smile and says, “Okay Mom. Thank you.”
The next month, he moves out, saying that he’s moving to Houston to be near friends, but we see him a few weeks later at the school. At least when he accepts our invitation to spend Christmas with us, it’s obvious when he shows up that he showered that morning by his huge, fuzzy Afro.
“Taytem! Stop that smacking right now. You’ve got better manners than that, but you sound like a dog slurping up his food.”
“Mom, I’m not eating.”
I turn around from doing the dishes to realize that that dreadful slurping is coming from Kun, our Korean student. I choose to believe that his noisy eating habits must be his cultural way of saying that the food is delicious – since he’s never actually verbally complimented my cooking, even after his fourth helping.
We’re at a Cajun buffet. I’ve looked over Rusul’s plate and only noticed chicken. I go back for a second helping of jambalaya, and he follows me, getting his own helping of jambalaya.
“Oh Rusul, you don’t want to eat that. It has pork in it.” Rusul is a devout Muslim who prays 5 times a day in his room and absolutely does NOT eat pork.
“Yes, see? There’s pork right there.”
“But I’ve had two helpings!”
He tries to be polite, but he immediately rushes to the bathroom and we spend the next 15 minutes at the table trying not to think about what he’s doing in there.
In a discussion about politics, the troubles in the Middle East and Jews:
“But Hitler was an evil, evil man,” says Lukus.
Rusul shrugs. He’s not a fan of Jews and doesn’t necessarily agree. We have no idea what to say after this.
It’s Monday. Lukus is at work and has taken Kun and Rusul to school as usual. So I’m walking around downstairs in my underwear to get some water, singing my tribute to Whitney Houston in my silliest American Idol audition style. I go upstairs to put on some pajama pants and get the girls up. I come downstairs, and almost pee my pants because a shadowy figure is standing in the kitchen and I’m trying to estimate how quickly I can get to the shotgun upstairs. A moment later, I realize it’s Rusul, who stayed home that day. He’s probably heard my Whitney Houston impression, and fortunately, barely missed seeing me in my underwear.
“Kun! We’re ready to go to the restaurant!” Taytem yells through Kun’s door.
“Okay. I’ll be five minutes,” says Kun.
“Taytem Bjorn!” I whisper/yell frantically. ”We were just going as a family! That’s why we ordered pizza for the guys!”
Rusul and Kun are ready to go. The pizza arrives, goes straight into the fridge and we have to shell out an extra $30 at the restaurant.
This is the wonderfully, awkward life of living with foreign college-age guys who don’t speak English very well. And every day, I’m thankful that this is my life. Well, almost every day.