The title is probably more grandiose than the post.

I’ve often thought that stereotypes are there for a reason.  At some point, perhaps even currently, there was or is a kernel of truth to them.  Of course, times change and there are plenty of truth kernels buried under mounds of bullshit, so you use stereotypes at your own risk.

But sometimes.

Take housework.  I know plenty of guys who do more than you’d think.  I know a few women who hate cleaning their house (hi, Mom).  But, on average, women do more housework than men.  If your first reaction to: “The parent vacuumed the rug” is to picture a woman, congratulations, your indoctrination is complete.  Please buy a double cheeseburger and turn the TV to a reality show.

Okay, this was all a lot more coherent in my head.  My point is, I do more housework at home than I’d like.  I don’t do nearly as much as my wife.  But, despite the two of us trying very hard to lead lives against stereotypes, our chores break down along lines that an ad-man in the 50s would recognize.  If it involves a tool, I do it.  If it involves cleaning something or making something look nice, she does it.  It’s not that she can’t use tools – most of our tools when we first got married belonged to her.  It’s not that I can’t clean things.  I, um, just don’t, typically. It’s not that I can’t make things look nice…wait, that’s actually true.  But after a while we sort of settled into this routine and I don’t think either of us are unhappy about it.  Sure, she’d like to not come home from a business trip to find laundry she started still in the washer but, hey, what are you going to do?  Those vows are pretty solid.

The upshot of all this is:  I’ve occupied an apartment, by myself, for over six weeks now.

It’s not as bad as you’d think (really, dear).  For one, I’m not nearly the slob many of my gender are.  I don’t mind disorder but actual filth really bugs me.  So I take the trash out regularly and do dishes daily.  The tourism ads write themselves, really.  Also, I have groups of students over periodically which forces some modicum of cleanliness.

But after I got off the phone with my wife, who, tonight wasn’t cleaning but often is when I call, I realized that, if she had lived here for six weeks the place would have gotten several solid cleanings, top to bottom.  And, I realized, I liked it a lot more when the place was that clean.

So, I rummaged around and discovered several odd instruments.  Google informs that these are: broom, dustbin, mop.  Cool.  Also, bleach is your friend.

The floor is now very clean.  Cleaner than it’s been since I’ve known it.  Short aside: Chile and Santiago in particular are really dusty places.  The amount of dirt that ends up on surfaces such as, for instance, the floor, is simply incredible.  I didn’t dust tonight because the students come over tomorrow night and I’ll have to dust again tomorrow afternoon anyway.  It builds that fast. 

While scrubbing the floor, my mind veered into territory I had tried to prevent it going.  I’ve been asked by students from my London program (Worrell House summer 2014) and my current program which was “better.”  Not in so many words.  They’re crafty, subtle questions.  I’ve only once been asked by students if they’re the best I’ve ever taught.  Which took some guts, I’d think.  It was a freshman class – these guys are now graduated but not by a whole lot – and was, technically, an “honors” class.  Toward the end, they were hard to calm and one came forward as leader and told me the class had a question to ask:

“Are we the best class you’ve ever had?”  Modest bunch.

“No,” I said, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the look on their faces. “You’re about like most of them.”  Faces fall further.

The point wasn’t that they were a bad class, they were outstanding, truly wonderful.  Some very bright young scientists and, as often happens at Wake, even the kids who were failing the course were really interesting and engaged in a couple of activities for which they had great passion.  But there are a LOT of such people.  The world is, fortunately, full of amazing, interesting people.  Everywhere, not just at Wake or university.  That they were excellent young people and students is both miraculous and completely ordinary.  There is, after all, only so amazing a college freshman can be.  I told them this and they seemed mollified.

Thus, in that vein, I don’t want to even think of comparing my London experience and my Southern Cone experience.  London was incredible.  London, the city, is unbelievable and even if you think you hate cities you owe it to yourself to spend a couple of weeks there just wandering the streets.  Do the tourist stuff, sure.  If you’re British or American, a lot of what you are and how your society works transpired in buildings you can still walk through.  That ain’t nothing.  But it’s just a cool city to get lost in.

But the class was special.  I got to know them very well in six weeks since we were all crammed together in a Victorian era house.  I’ve stayed in touch with most of them.  Some may even be reading this (howdy!).  Here in South America, I’m not living with the students and see them far less.  At the same time, I’m teaching two classes.  The program is longer.  We have more group outings.  We’ve now been down here together for nearly three months.  It’ll be over five before it’s done.  The students chose the program at least in part because it is in Latin America, which is quite different than London.  They wanted a semester program instead of a summer.  They are, on average, slightly older.  I’m getting to know them more slowly than I did the London students but am starting to know them as well. It is, in short, a completely different experience and, to my mind, the one can’t possibly detract from the other. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have had two such experiences.  So I don’t wish to compare them at all, lest I demean one or both.

However, during my housecleaning, I couldn’t help compare the experiences.

Worrell House had a housekeeper.


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