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.
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.
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.
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.