Tuesday, February 1, 2011
chicken juice and other authentic experiences
When all the language assistants got here from America this past fall, our #1 priority was clear. It came up again and again in conversation as we were settling in and doing the job hunt:
I want to find local roommates.
I could say I was one of the lucky ones, except it wasn't luck at all, it was getting here a full week ahead of schedule to hunt for an apartment. Anyway, I had Made It. I had Real Basque Roommates. I was going to have the Authentic Local Experience.
Let me pause for a moment here to give you some vital background information: This is not a cynical post. I really do like my roommates. We've had a lot of turnover so I don't know everyone in my piso so well yet, but from everything I can tell I like my new roommates too. My old roommate Ismene is without doubt my closest friend from here.
Anyway, back to the story. Sometime between October 1 and now, I have formed a conclusion about the Search for Local Roommates. It boils down to this shocker: Basque roommates are still roommates. Stop the presses, I know. What this means is, yes, they speak at least one language you're trying to learn and yes, you get to have closer contact with "local culture" at home. On the one hand, living with fellow Americans doesn't really get you this kind of immersion; on the other, do you really want to experience your deepest culture shock at home? That's not a rhetorical question; I really don't know the answer. But consider this experience I had yesterday:
I go to the freezer to pull out some cheese or something I had in there. I discover the freezer door is open and won't shut. The things near the front of the freezer have partly thawed, including some chicken that was wrapped haphazardly in some saran wrap. Chicken had dripped all over, meaning when I opened the door, I was greeted with a spurt of chicken juice. I spent the next 10 minutes cleaning out the freezer and flipping out - "it's just not healthy to leave raw meat like that!," I kept repeating like some broken disc to Teresa, who was helping me mop up the floor and in all likelihood wondering what had gotten into me.
In a later conversation with my mom, after I had settled down, she reminded me that people here do not worry about food storage like we do in America - at least partly because chickens in Europe don't go through the horribly gross process that American chickens go through.
Of course, if I lived with Americans, I wouldn't have gone through that little culture shock meltdown. I also wouldn't have gotten to see the expressions on my roommates' faces when they tried their first candy corn, their first biscuit, their first roasted sweet potato. I wouldn't have thought to visit some of the places I've seen and I wouldn't have gotten to have a "Marcha de San Sebastian" sing-and clap-along in the car on the way home from Lekeitio.
Living with people who have a different worldview, background, even native language is a challenge at times - but I can't say I regret it!