The Host Family and its Discontents

When I came back from Chile, one of the first things most people asked me was about the family that I lived with in Chile, which was never an easy question for me to answer. It seemed like everything I said about them ended with a but, which launched into a whole other set of descriptions, often evoking global statements about “Chileans” and, well, I always learned the I should try to “show” and not “tell,” so here goes.

The following is an angry post that I wrote the day after a particularly frustrating experience, which I had the good sense to avoid posting at the time, a levelheadedness that has since escaped me. Enjoy!

Cast of Characters:

Luz - the host mom, a widow from Southern Chile

Andrea – the host sister, a 30-something single woman living at home

The last 24 hours or so have been a mix of intense, embarrassing and disturbing, and I’m just now trying to sort through all of it.

Last night was a very important soccer game, a World Cup qualifier between Chile and Venezuela held here in Santiago. Andrea, my host sister, had mentioned that it would be nice to have some friends over and watch the game. I should think about people to invite, and we’d invite the neighbors, and maybe a few other people to gather around the TV and watch the game.

That sounds like fun, I thought, though not as much fun as going to watch at a bar, or many other places I could think of, particularly because there was nowhere in the house that we could watch, and the TV is in their room. Sure, we could all huddle around the bed, beer bottles in hand, but that hardly seemed like something that I’d feel good inviting many people over to do.

Still, a few could be fun, so I invited a friend over, and got home, only to discover that I was the only one who had. Andrea had gone to the neighbors’ apartment, but no one had been home, and decided not to call anyone. We went to the neighbors’ again and, when they didn’t answer, I called my neighbor Pablo. He was at the stadium for the game, so that was that. Andrea asked about Victor, Pablo’s housemate, but I had already hung up. Our conversation proceeded about as follows, with Andrea first.

“Is Victor with him?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Pablo didn’t say and I forgot to ask.”

“Do you think Victor is with him?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Pablo didn’t say and I forgot to ask.”

“He might be inside sleeping.”

“Oh yeah? Was he sleeping when you came here earlier?”

“No, but do you think he’s inside?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Pablo didn’t say and I forgot to ask.”

“Is he at the Stadium?

“I don’t know,” I said. “Pablo didn’t say and I forgot to ask.”

This is just the latest in many episodes where I’m 99% sure that I say something clear and it’s just as though Andrea or Luz, my host mom, doesn’t hear it. One time Andrea invited us all to a club, and said I should get all of my friends to go, but that I should make sure to get her the names beforehand, so we could get on the list and get in free.

“But make sure you get me the names beforehand,” she’d say at lunch 3 days before.

“Yep, I will,” I’d say.

“Remember though, I need the names.”

Wondering if she expected me to go invite my friends in between bites of food, I could only reply “Right, okay. I almost forgot,” before being reminded several more times before the end of the meal to get here the names. When I jokingly mentioned that she’d told me four times already, she got defensive and claimed I was lying.

I’ve mentioned before that my host mom and sister are both big drinkers, and although it’s never been a real problem, and far be it for me to tell two grown women how to live their lives, it’s stressing me out. I don’t know if the aforementioned memory problems are at all related, or if my level of Spanish is secretly worse than I think it is, but it’s seriously just a bunch of small things that are starting to make spending time here and with them less than appealing.

The game, for instance. I had the idea of moving the TV out of their bedroom and onto the table, which would allow us to watch from the couch. Fine, they said, but as long as I do it myself.

Okay, whatever. Sure, it’s heavy, and sure, it’d be a lot easier if somebody offered to help carry a few of the cords that kept tripping me, but I can handle it. Afterward though, it just got ridiculous. They all sat down on the couch and I started adjusting the antenna. It looked okay and I sat down, and we all started chatting, each with a drink in hand.

The screen started to look bad again, because they own a piece of crap antenna, and Andrea started whining for me to fix it.

“Danyelll, fiiiiix iiiiit… Danyelll…”

“You fix it, you’re sitting closer than I am.”

“But Danyelllll, it was your idea to bring the TV out here, and you’re the man of the house. Danyellll…”

It basically continued like this for a long time. They got more and more drunk, I’d get up and fix it, sit down, Andrea would ask me to fix her a new drink and whine until I did, get more drunk, etc. Not only that, but one time I went to refill her glass, I came back to see a very conspicuously gulp-sized amount missing from my glass when I got back.

And this “man of the house” talk, though it’s flattering in its own dysfunctional way, this is not a house that I want to be “the man” of. Luz regularly refers to me as her “baby,” and jokes that I’m “Daniel (their last name),” and I just smile politely. I am not a member of their family, I am a person who pays rent to have a place in their house and join them in eating.

The other thing that quickly became apparent is that Andrea’s only concern with the antenna is to antagonize me, because not once did she look at the screen. During the game Luz, who was also thoroughly shit-faced, talked non-stop about everything except soccer, inspiring Andrea to consistently yell at her to stop talking, stop talking, stop talking. And everything that she talked about, which at one point may have been interesting, was half-slurred and all repeats of the same things she said last time she got really drunk and wouldn’t stop talking (Friday).

There was no specific moment that was especially bad, but the whole night with them was just a series of irritating interactions, not satisfying or interesting in the least, and had them constantly saying things and then thinking that we don’t understand what they’re saying, almost as though we were the ones almost falling out of our chairs from the liquor, though we’re doing our best to nod politely as they continue a story only they can follow.

Eventually Luz got up and went to bed and Andrea went to “do the dishes,” as I later discovered her in the kitchen. I had been subtly pouring pisco out of her glass when she wasn’t looking in a vain attempt to avoid this very drunken state, but it hadn’t worked. She had been pouring a fresh glass of  pisco when I walked in, and I played dumb, thanked her and poured it into my own glass, and then said “oh no, were you about to drink that?” No, she said, and handed me the pisco bottle. I thought I was in the clear. She was going to clean the dishes, and asked me to close the kitchen door behind me because… I’m not sure.

It wasn’t until she went to bed and the game continued that I came into the kitchen to grab a beer, only to discover that one of the six packs I had bought was gone. None of us had drunk any of it, so I was confused. I searched the house, every room except their bedroom, and couldn’t find it anywhere, or the bottle of pisco I’d left on the counter. It wasn’t until the next morning that I found all six cans in the recycling, empty. She didn’t pour them out or anything; rather, she drank them, 6 cans in about 20 minutes.

I asked Luz about this, and she just said. “Yep. When Andrea drinks, she drinks.”

That’s only half of what put me in a weird mood, but I think I’m gonna get some sleep, clutching my precious alcohol to my side, the only way to keep it away from the bottomless pits that are my host mom and sister.

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