This is my column for the Collegian this week.
Some of my Filipino friends back home have asked me about how clean Americans are inside the house. I could not answer straight to the point, because the term “clean” is relative: cleanliness in the Filipino perspective could be a far cry from the American viewpoint. If cleanliness is the absence of dirt or offensive odor, then based on the number of American homes I have been into since 2006, Americans do maintain a clean surrounding.
There is, of course, an exception to the rule. There are some Americans (mostly the younger generations) who do not know how to maintain tidiness in areas of the house that are supposed to be shipshape.
This is not specific to one culture, though. Although Filipinos are known to be really clean at home, some are deficient on this area of household responsibility as well.
Except for those living alone, most students share a house or an apartment with others. Americans who happen to live with international students know very well the difference between “cleanliness” in one culture from “cleanliness” defined by another.
How habitually neat and clean are your housemates? Do they live up to your idealisms of what a clean house should be like? While you probably want to vacuum the carpet once a week, your house mates may just be contented of a monthly cleaning routine. Then cleanliness becomes a bone of contention.
If you share a house with others, you certainly would want the kitchen counter and food surfaces to be clean at all times. Who wants to cook in a greasy, off-color sink with piles of unwashed utensils anyway?
Next target is the living room – a place where most of the house members gather for a nightly TV viewing or conversation or a short playtime. Yet, who wants to sit on a couch invaded with scattered papers and magazines, personal belongings, cups and glasses and used tea bags – like a carnival of stuff in total disarray?
What about the toilet and bathroom? My parents used to tell me that if I want to know how hygienic a person is, I have to check the toilet. This part of the house should always be spic-and-span for sanitary purposes, especially if you reside with male house mates. You don’t want to culture molds over the seat, rim and bowl, do you?
This is my perception, ladies and gentlemen. I really do not care whatever people do inside their private rooms. Plant a tree, raise a monkey, interbreed insects, act like Tarzan; I do not care a fig! Your room is the only place you can be yourself, and you have all the rights to transform it to whatever sci-fi scene you want. Just leave the common area of the house free of your cultured bugs or your pet monkey’s hair. This advice goes to everyone and not to a particular nationality only.
One of the challenges of living with others of different nationality, indeed, is to learn how to adjust to another culture’s idea of cleanliness. You do not have to be rude to change someone else’s “messy perception” of tidiness. Or you do not even have to change anything at all.
You may have idealisms, but you have to balance it with reality. In this type of situation, textbooks no longer matter. Conventional wisdom says that one-on-one conversation works wonders. A regular house meeting is what it takes to keep things easy. Division of labor is the key to a house that is livable for all.
Enjoy living with your housemates!