One of my favorite parts of ceramics class is the cultural insights I get from the conversations. Take today for instance.
We reunited after a long weekend so we began with the usual round of “how was your weekend?” We knew that the other student in the class was planning a birthday getaway for her daughter who turned seven and were wondering how it went. The weekend getaway was supposed to include a couple of close family members, basically her mom and her sister and brother-in-law. The brother-in-law has an uncle with an unoccupied finca (farm) which he let them use for the birthday festivities free of change. Sounds good, no?
Well, it didn’t turn out so good. On the drive up to the finca, the brother-in-law told her sister that he invited a few of his family members, twenty-three to be exact, to join in the weekend’s festivities! The sister was angry. Cooking for twenty-three people is very different than cooking for five. Plus, it was supposed to be a small family party for a little girl, not a family reunion for the brother-in-law’s family.
When the sister confronted the brother-in-law, he got angry, accusing her of being selfish and not welcoming to his family. He also told her that she doesn’t share well (apparently a big insult here). So bottom line: the family stayed all weekend, the women had to cook for almost thirty people all weekend long, and the brother-in-law did not speak to his wife for the entire weekend.
When my fellow student’s husband arrived at his daughter’s high jacked birthday weekend, he took in the scene and being “from the Coast” (Costenos are known to be friendly and gregarious), said, “What’s the problem? The more, the merrier.” He then proceeded to mingle and put everybody at ease. (Of course, he didn’t have to cook for this crew.)
As my fellow student told us this story, our ceramics teacher just said, “Family gatherings are always complicated, aren’t they?” I am not quite sure what to make of these cultural differences, but it’s hard to imagine this happening in the US. Can you imagine your spouse inviting twenty three people to stay for the weekend without checking with you? And if it was for your sister’s party to boot? And expecting you to cook for all of these people all weekend long?
This story was followed by another story of a Colombian male friend who lives in Europe and complains that he just can’t handle having a European girlfriend. He apparently prefers Colombian girlfriends because they are “easier to handle and more subservient”. “European women are too tough and demanding”, he laments.
There was an uncomfortable laughter as this last story was told. I couldn’t help but wonder, how do these women feel about being viewed that way? Do they see it themselves? Do they see how even in their stories, they are always putting others’ needs ahead of their own? Do they see how they allow the men in their lives to dictate what they do?
I was curious, but of course I didn’t ask. I didn’t say anything. Sometimes it’s better to just keep my mouth shut and listen. I learn a lot more that way.