There’s someone washing her knickers in my bathroom. I’ve politely explained that our washing machine handles underwear just as well as it does the big stuff, but she has equally politely pointed out in response that this is “a question of hygiene”. Er, OK. At least she’s left the door open so that the children can still go in and brush their teeth before bedtime – the last ladies used to shut and lock it, and then it was game over for the rest of us for half an hour or so. Welcome to the world of Chinese lodgers.
It’s been quite a year of cultural insights in the Rock household, and the one thing I can say is that it’s harder to generalise about national traits than I thought it would be. We’re a host family on a rolling programme run by the local university which delivers a fresh batch of Chinese visitors to our door at three-month intervals – and golly, how one group can differ from another.
We’ve had city slickers and country bumpkins, terrified mice who won’t come out of their room and confident, in-your-face alpha specimens who won’t leave you alone. English ability ranges from “Hello-you-help-me-please-Mr-Chris” to “Hello, I’m writing an essay on what Chinese teachers can learn from best practice in English schools; do you have any opinions on the integrated didactic approach?”. Some love trying European food; others appear to believe it will kill them. One batch will routinely walk to get to any point within five miles of the house; the next will shun visits to our nearest supermarket (less than a mile) if the bus isn’t running. However, some things never change: almost all of them boil their water before drinking it (oh, I’ve tried telling them about that too), every one of them gleefully over-feeds our children when we’re not looking, and the trap on our bath’s waste pipe invariably needs de-gunking of huge plugs of long black hair every quarter.
And yes, they all wash their undies in our bathroom sink.