Culture Clash

When you buy a plane ticket to another place, you are also purchasing a little (or a lot) of culture shock. Maybe it’s just a weekend jaunt to New York from Miami. Or, maybe it’s Dubai via Lisbon and Atlanta. Either way, you already have an impression of those places, in relation to who you are and you’re ready (a little…or a lot) to meet the culture change and adapt (a little…or…and so on).

When you marry someone, you also sign on for a bit of culture shock. If you’re lucky, you get the views and the foods and the people to go with it. If you’re not, you get a lot of stuff you’re not prepared for, say inadvertent discrimination or outright antagonism. It’s hard to explain to others. After all, everyone you talk to comes from a place either more or less on the scale between you and them.

Them. It’s a smile if they’re on good behavior or, for a bonus, are just like you. It’s that sort of them when they aren’t. And hoo boy, it sure is us and them around here. So here’s a little culture shock for you (or a lot), courtesy of two weeks and counting of my visiting parents, their three cats and a 190 pound rottweiler named Sam.

I could stop right there, right? 190 pounds. That’s pretty much enough of a story. He’s about 6 feet tall. Or thereabouts. He’s practically Babe and the Big Blue Ox. Both of them at once. Only less nice.

I grew up with these people so I wasn’t surprised when they informed me that they had brought with them from Wyoming their three cats and that they had left them in the trailer in our driveway.** I wasn’t surprised to see that they only go out once a day to feed them. I’m not even particularly surprised that they don’t refer to them by name. Given the familial live and let die perspective, I was only mildly surprised when they went looking for a cat they thought had escaped. I wasn’t surprised when they stopped looking five minutes later.** D, who considers our cats family members, had a slight learning curve. All things considered, she adapted quickly, knowing both that my parents are basically kind people.

But man, are they fucking clueless.*** We stored our cats in the basement. I promise, it’s perfectly spacious and hospitable. Practically a five star hotel compared to a trailer. We do this because Sam has a cat tooth. You know, a sweet tooth for cats. Oh, he’s a big baby, says my father. My mother stamps around nervously but ineffectively, believing that as long as we do everything right nothing bad will ever happen.**** After all, she says, he doesn’t want to hurt anything. He’s just so big. And so strong, you guys, no one can hold him. The last time he was here, he tried to eat my cat. There are not enough italics for this post.

sol

There’s nothing funny about it and I can’t even manage a quip here. It fucking sucked. They did not apologize. They did not pay vet bills. What they said was, “Are you sure it wasn’t Moses?” It was not Moses, friends, unless you are missing a loaf of bread and a pork chop, it is never Moses.

moses

Our confined cats come up at night to engage with humanity, because we are not only basically nice but our pets are not the sort you store in a trailer. And, in the morning, we shoo them downstairs. Except on Wednesday when we didn’t shoo fast enough.

One cat had learned his lesson, he heard the tramp of giant feet and was a flash of white bolting down the stairs. The other cat, the one that swipes at everyone, was lazy and she tried to stroll. Sam snatched her up in his giant maw before any of us, including the cat, could move.***** In the chaos, Debra tried to restrain Sam and I pried the cat out of his jaws as she sprayed us all with urine and drew as much blood as possible. No one can say she’s not a fighter.

biscuit

My parents? They did not apologize. What they said was, “Are you sure it wasn’t Moses?” although it happened in front of them. The remainder of the day was spent on eggshells as they alternately ignored the situation and muttered a story about how they once found their kitten in Sam’s mouth and how now, they proudly say, that cat is the only one who will go near him.

Anything you can tell me here is something I’ve already thought of. And you’re right, there are a lot of solutions to the problem, plenty of sympathy, and more than a ration of outrage. There are plenty of opportunities for should have and unacceptable. Suffice to say that we’re dealing with a fair amount of culture shock here. The scary kind of culture shock. The kind that makes you want to lock yourself in a hotel room and book a new flight home. As someone who is bi-cultural in this case, I’m at a loss. This visit is over in three days.

Everyone will be alive when we finish.******

 

 

* They tow this across country as opposed to flying.

** The cat was under the sink.

*** Whoops language. But, in this case, called for. Believe me.

**** Hello therapy.

***** She is fine.

****** They damn well better be.

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9 Responses

  1. Send me your wife for coffee and condiment therapy this weekend.
    Oh, and then invite me for dinner later next week, so I can pet the cat. And talk about MJH.
    For real, I’m sorry. That all sucks.

  2. Yeah, I agree, that sucks. It is so crazily weird how our families of origin can become completely different cultures, and how hard it is to translate for those who didn’t grow up in that culture, and how hard it is to “re-enter” that culture when so much of it consists of ways of being that we have rejected for ourselves and our families of choice.

  3. I have no words. Glad you get your house back soon, and that your cat is okay. Hope the next few days fly by.

  4. With all respect to your relationship with your parents: what the fuck? WHAT THE FUCK? Next time, you have my standing offer to come over, shoot their dog with a tranquilizer dart, and haul it off to doggie daycare/ solitary confinement/ ‘observation for rabies’/ ‘oh he must have gotten lost… until you’re ready to leave’/ what the hell ever.

    My own mother agreed to their latest dog (40 lbs, abused stray) because although skittish, she was fine around a whole array of small children AND CATS. Of course, she votes Republican now, which I find completely incomprehensible (her first job was at PP, ffs) so… win some, lose some, right?

    I dearly hope you and your family and your parents and all the cats and possibly even the pony-sized dog are all okay for three more days. (I like dogs. I just don’t like enormous dogs with… er… foolish… owners.)

    Amusing anecdote to maybe brighten your day a tiny tiny bit: Once, while leaving work in New Haven, I opened the (solid metal) door, came face-to-face with a Great Dane, and literally jumped a foot in the air.

  5. I didn’t realize your parents were my in-laws. DH and I have had several conversations about what to do about giant cat- and chicken-killing dog around the small children. We really don’t feel the kids are safe around it.

    Good luck with the rest of the visit, I hope it goes as well as possible.

  6. 1.Seana’s brother had a Rottweiler that size who thought I was his girlfriend. Sedna was one of my best buds in college- we often crashed at her brother’s in ATL after concerts and whatnot and I’d always wake up to that dog trying to have his way with me. ‘Nuff said?
    2. Parents are definitely a foreign country.
    3. Denial is not just a river in Egypt- it’s the cornerstone of many a good family. ESP. the Irish catholic flavor.
    4. 3 days…….

  7. Oh. My. I am so glad your cat is in one piece. I am amazed that your relationship with your parents is in any shape at all (which isn’t meant to mean that it shouldn’t be, in that guilt-trip way from college where people tell you it’s your fault for not breaking all ties with people who would blah blah blah. College! What a kick in the pants!)

    My own MIL is currently on my aerobed, driving me slightly crazy, but not actually endangering anyone. And she washed the trashcans yesterday, so I’m feeling pretty good about this visit, all things considered. (NB, I have not gotten out of bed yet, so this may change.)

  8. What the hell? I mean, I grew up with dogs that were a little.. iffy around cats that they didn’t live with, but we were always hyper-aware of that, and super careful about it. I’m glad your cat is okay, we’ll leave it at that.

    The culture shock with my parents these days mostly just has to do with them not having had a toddler in a very long time. (“No, seriously, if you leave him alone in the living room there’s a decent chance he’ll try to climb on top of the piano and end up dumping his great-grandfather’s ashes all over the place.”)

    With my in-laws… it’s a little more substantial for both PB and I. They don’t bring it up very often, but I think they’re concerned that we’re going to Hell for not being Christian. They’re probably concerned about Critter’s soul too, but they’ve been smart enough not to mention it, at least around me. Also, they’re kind of into the whole “genetics is destiny” idea, which I think in their case translates to “our (adopted) kids mostly didn’t turn out to be clones of us, but we’re not taking the blame for it”. And it bugs me no end, personally. And then there’s the part where everything in the house is low-fat/full of artificial sweeetners, so you know, it’s “healthy”. Which, let’s just say, is not really our approach. They’re generally kind and very welcoming and I shouldn’t complain, but it’s an adjustment.

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