What Do Americans Do All Day?

6/14/08

It all started with dirty socks. I had been told that it is culturally inappropriate to give personal items such as socks and underwear to my host family to wash. Instead, we were to wash those items ourselves. And when I say “wash,” I don’t mean “throw in a white metal box and press a button,” I mean wash.

Washing clothes is a rather complicated process. The first step is getting the water. My house has what I would call “meandering” water. It doesn’t really run, sometimes it will decide to come out but the good majority of the time it just kind of chills there, maybe sending a couple of droplets your way as a teaser. And as a general rule, it is never, ever there when there is a pile of dirty under things that desperately need it.

So instead of it coming to you, you must go to it. Thankfully, we don’t need to go to the river and come back balancing buckets on our heads, although I have to admit, I really want to try that. I’ve seen women in the village do it and part of my feels horrible that they have to do so much labor just to get water and the other part of me thinks about how cool it would be if I could do that, how started always trying to balance things on my head after seeing the girl in The Jungle Book do it…

Okay back to dirty socks. So instead of going to the river, I go to the kitchen where we have big tubs of water which my family fills up every time the water decides to pick up the pace. So I lug one of the tubs to the bathroom and grab my bucket my host mom has given me (same bucket I use to take showers with btw, but that’s a whole other post altogether). I put all my dirty stuff in and throw in some detergent. The water turns sort of grayish, leading me to believe that the dirt has magically disappeared! But when I pulled a couple of socks out, sadly, that was not the case. So I scrub them a bit, make them, well, if not clean, then at least not too dirty. I mean they’re socks, who will know if they’re a little brown? I’m a little short on time, it takes me around twenty minutes to walk to work meaning that I should have left a good ten minutes ago. Who decided to make socks white anyway?

Apparently my host mom doesn’t subscribe to my brown sock mantra, tonight at dinner she told me she had a good laugh with my sister this morning when she saw my socks hanging up to dry. She demanded to know exactly how I washed them and then proceeded to laugh again, asking me how I ever survive at home.

“We don’t wash things by hand,” I told her, explaining the complicated process involving the pushing of a button.

The conversation then turned to other “crazy” things that Americans have, things like a dishwasher.

“Imagine, a machine doing all the dishes for you,” said my host sister Charntel.

My host dad chimed in that he had heard that Americans even have a toothbrush that brushes your teeth for you!

This prompted my host mom to ask, in total seriousness, “With all this free time, what do Americans do all day?”

All eyes turned on me, the unelected American representative, called to defend my country and somehow justify all of our time-saving luxuries.

What could I possibly say?

“Well a lot of people really like this show called the Office…”