Two posts on Euro-American culture clashes in one day! In this one, it’s the American on foreign soil:
Dear Margo: I live with my boyfriend in a small studio apartment in Switzerland. We have a happy life together; he studies at the university and I just landed my first real job. My boyfriend is Swiss and has parents who are very involved in his life. This is fine with me, except when they want to come visit. They always insist on staying with us in our 400 square foot apartment, claiming it’s cheaper for them. I find this ridiculous, as they are both retired teachers, and in Switzerland that means you are financially quite stable. Am I being unreasonable? How do I politely tell them that I don’t want them cramming on top of me every time they want to visit their son? Keep in mind, this has to be translated to German. — Cramped in Zurich
Dear Cramp: I don’t think you even have to worry about translating your request into Deutschen because I don’t think you should be making the request. Your freund should be the one to step up to the plate and tell his parents that it’s really not comfortable — for anyone — to have four adults living like sardines, or sardinen, in their language. You don’t sound unreasonable to me. In fact, I’m trying to visualize four people, one bathroom, a tiny kitchen and what? Two air mattresses on the floor? With luck, you can find an inexpensive bed and breakfast or a small hotel not too far from you. — Margo, sensibly
This is a tough one, because while this would also drive me crazy (how often do the parents visit, and how long do they stay? She doesn’t say….) this writer and I are out of our element here. “Cramped” in American terms (which I would describe as, “we don’t have a spare bedroom for you) is not the same as “cramped” in European terms (which is defined, as I understand it, as “we literally cannot fit you through the door”). Europeans just live in smaller spaces than Americans do, and are more comfortable with close quarters than those of us who grew up with a “personal space bubble.”
And even though I myself have such a bubble, I feel inclined to be a bit less sympathetic to this writer than I ordinarily would, just because whle she makes it sound like these parents are up in her space all the time, I’m not convinced this has yet actually happened. She doesn’t say how often the parents come or how long they stay. And she assumes they speak only German….while I would in fact be very surprised if middle aged Swiss school teachers spoke NO English.
And I was going to berate Margo for making up the word “sardinen,” then I Googled it and it actually is German for sardine. So…..Margo gets a pass, this time.