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Monday, 17 October 2011

Having someone else in the house, staying, actually going upstairs and strolling around, was odd. We missed him terribly when he’d gone, but all the parents agreed that it was a relief to know we could go back to having a bit of a shout, pop into our jim jams early of an evening and forget playing the Merry Mom. We chatted in the playground for an hour after we’d waved them off, a bit teary, and then worried we’d be put on a Register for hanging around in a school unattended by children.

I’d spent a scant month grinding my fingerprints to a criminal-friendly blank in cleaning since we’d been told that T15’s German Exchange Student, Darius, was not merely on Ritalin but had a dust allergy to boot. Death by dust wasn’t going to happen on my watch.

He arrived late, since they’d missed the ferry. The clichéd by-word for efficiency had not merely missed the ferry but arrived late enough to squeak onto the next one by the skin of their teeth. We went to pick him up. The rain hurled its English welcome.

The first hour dragged.

“So!” I said brightly, when we got in that first night and were still tripping over shoes and cases in the hall, “Bed?”
Nothing like a decent welcome, you say, but the lad had been on the go since about 2 in the morning, 19 hours ago.
“No,” he said with what I grew to recognise as Teutonic directness.
“Oh,” I said.

We are lucky. We have 3 (tiny) bathrooms. Darius needed a whole one to himself since the beauty regime began early. I dread the electricity bill.
Mrs Lovely had suffered an exchange. Having twins, twin girls, and therefore 2 visiting female teens, and one bathroom, she and Mr Lovely were getting up earlier and earlier, 6 am, 5.30 am, on one dread occasion 4.45 to have a shot at the shower, a glimpse at the toothbrush basin.
Mindful of this, I said firmly, “We shower at night, the morning, such a zuursh.”
“Yes,” said Darius. He rose at 6:30, sending the shower pump into what came to be a familiar house-shaking dawn frenzy.

My linguistic pain lies in knowing No German. I have instead an all-purpose Euro-language, comprising shaky tourist Spanish-Italian, a blurry merge of eager nodding, a side order of flashing teeth and a few words ending in –o. It is well-meaning and springs from a desire to appear to try but I have a sinking feeling that is baffling. Thus is portokalada, the Greek for Fanta Orange, ordered with grinning confidence in Portugal, where my knowledge extends merely to “obrigado” (spelling unsubstantiated but widely assumed to mean thank you, at least that’s the meaning I give it when smiling and nodding in Athens). I have got to enjoy many drinks in Portugal, few of them portokalada.

Rising extra early was ghastly, as was pretending to be nice and communicating, veering between my habitual freefall gabble and the occasional hastily remembered crap cod Portu-Greco-Euro, “No like morningos.” Sinister teeth unsheathed.

I had to drive the pair of them in since the school bus company was being an arse – we pay over £800 a year for T15’s ticket – and our friend, who pays, but never uses the service in the morning, said we could use their seat but Bennett’s refused to sanction it. “No,” they said, as if born in Berlin, “Not transferrable.”
“Come ON,” I said.
“No,” they said.
“Come on,” I whimpered, “we’ve spent over three thousand with you.”
“Sorry. Not transferrable. You’ll have to pay. I’ll do you a deal for £30.”
Fuck it, I thought, and pledged to drive the sixty miles a day, in out in out, that this entailed, even if petrol rose to a hundred quid a litre. That’ll show ‘em.

In the back, the boys were laughing over a photo on Darius’ iPhone so at the lights I took a look and inserted a “Sweet!” then a “Who is she?”
“My ex-gurrrlfriend,” said Darius.
“What a shame,” I cooed. "What happened?" I narrowed my eyes. He was so nice. What could this horrid girl have done to him.
He crossed his arms across his chest. He chuckled. “I was, errr, norrrrrty boy.”
What can one say.
“Oh, Darius,” I said.
“So,” I continued, with maternal eagerness, showing my teeth to indicate Good Thoughts, “How was Oxford?”
“Bit boring,” he said. I felt slighted. All those pesky dreaming spires, I guess. Seemed things had perked up when they were allowed shopping and HMV had been favoured with his cash. A CD was pressed into my hand.
“We play?”
John Humphries hadn't gone down well in the mornings, prompting not the hoped-for healthy debate about youth unemployment, or the folly of dumping parliamentary papers in a park bin, but instead collective teen eye rolling, so I had few hopes for the slippery slope of this CD. T15 reached to turn up the volume.
Just as the house to the shower pump, the car now pounded to some Mockney trancey rap crap. The teens looked pleased. I sighed and thought, Ommmmm. The music vaguely grew on me. I started to tap my finger on the steering wheel. F12 gave me a look. The finger froze. This was Nan swaying to the Sex Pistols and was not to be.

Next thing, the sassy Welsh bint, recognising an alien silhouette in the car from 100 paces, was flagging us down with a cheery, “Ooo! Hellooo!” I thought she might be about to issue us with a notification that we had single-handedly lowered house prices driving through at such volume but she was busy inviting us to something or other and, while I was revving, since I didn’t want to go dancing, her glances into the nether regions of the car were such that I had to say, “Oh, Lou, meet Darius, who’s staying with us from Germany.”
She smiled, “Darry-oossh! Welcome.”
I panicked. “Darius! Gosh, I’m sorry, have I been saying your name wrong?! I’m so sorry!”
“It’ll be Darry-oossh,” Lou continued to correct, nodding firmly.
“No,” said Darius. “it’s Darius.”
I gave Lou my Gosh Sorry face, at which she was meant to say, “obrigado,” and then shut up, but instead said, “No. No, it will be Darry-oossh. My father’s half Russian.”
So – since someone had to – I nodded my Gosh, OK face and we all moved on, that little bit the wiser.

Back home both boys, Darry-oossh and T15, reached for their XBox controls. A blurring of cultural differences, the yawn factor of history and sight-seeing and John Humphries dispensed with. The bonding over FIFA2012 was getting out of hand.
“Portokalada anyone?” I said.


Pigletinapoke said...

A comedic triumph as always. Poor old Dary-ooooooooosh. I'll take Portokalada with you anytime x
(My Blogger verification word for this comment is "shadifis" - is that Portokalada served under an umbrella perhaps?"

Expat mum said...

Fortunately, the Man-Child is showing no interest in an exchange to Brussels in 2012. Despite my A level French badge, I would probably find it excruciating anyway. This has reminded me to keep my mouth shut and avoid the French teacher like the plague.

Trish @ Mum's Gone To ... said...

This made me chuckle (as always) but in particular the look you were given when you tried to tap the tune on the steering wheel. Can we not be allowed to do anything??

My son came home with the French exchange letter last week and is very keen. We have someone coming to hog our bathroom in February and Rory will put the wind up some poor French family in return by announcing his peanut allergy and accompanying Epipen!

Fennie said...

Can't wait for the next episode when he's over his ferry-lag.

Wally B said...

We had an English Soccer coach staying with us recently for a week. We still had a language problem though. "This is where you put your dirty dishes" apparently translates into "Just leave them on the table".

Milla said...

hi all, thanks for your lovely comments, always so appreciated.
Indeed Piggy, that is a word which figures muchly in my Euro nonsense. Naturellement.
Expat, go for it girl! It was truly enjoyable. And terribly unlikely really.
Trish, delighted to think of fear being spread round the mainland. Not that I'd wish an allergy you understand (vestiges of Merry Mom lurk) but ...
Fennie, sweetly it has continued in dear Facebook updates "don't want to go home," "Wish I were back in England," etc. Really think he might have enjoyed it. Hope so.
Wally, yeah, well, there was a touch of that. I am frightfully bossy and did have to, er, expand the statements, "we say, Yes Please, Mrs C, sir, Darius." Think I got away with it.

janerowena said...

I was so traumatised by my daughter's german and french exchanges (one went out for a coffee and returned the following day, the german only liked potatoes and sausage and cabbage)that I refused to let my son have either german or spanish boys to stay. Because someone messed up the dates we would have had to have them for two weeks. I spent months avoiding teachers and ignoring emails. He got 'A's in his GCSEs, taken this year, so it didn't scar him for life!

Frances said...

Milla, I read your Darius post this morning before I entered into many hours at my workplace, a place where I really need to edit my verbal skills, or lack of.

And of and on throughout the day, I was reminded of your family's adventures with Darius.

I think you all were very generous to offer up your home to this exchange project. And...have many questions. Lolly...Darius, any warmth there?

Will either of your brilliant lads be traveling to Germany in the next few years?

Somehow, your having to increase the transport costs of getting to and from school just seems so unfair. Ahhh, but when was life fair?

There's a question! xo

Chris Stovell said...

Teens and more teens? You star! That's all I can say (apart from lovely writing as ever).

Kitty said...

God forbid! Mine speaks fluent 1950s BBC announcer, with a bit of Yorkshire thrown in for good measure. So that's two languages and enough for any boy. He can go threre, but they're not coming here, which I suppose isn't exactly the point, nor the meaning, of exchange.
And all that cleaning to boot. You deserve a medal m'dear.

Exmoorjane said...

Ommmmmm??? You thought Ommmmmm? *quietly laughs and exits, humming almost smugly*

Jake Barton said...

As a recent convert to blogs I've experimented widely, occasionally rashly, in search of perfection and here it is. This is my favourite blog. I'm a compulsive reader of books, venturing into the virtual world has not been easy, but now I'm here, what a world has opened up!
Here we find the inner thoughts and deeds of real people. Just not necessarily 'normal' people, but who wants to read about normality? This is what Bridget Jones and all her apologists should have been. Love it. 25,000 views of this blog - which is impressive, but it should be read by everyone, not just the fortunate few. Dull moments? Not a single one to be found. When I'm dictator of Britain - plans are afoot - this blog will be freely available on the NHS.

Edward said...

I love the way you casually refer to FIFA2012, as if you knew what it was. What, you mean you DO know what it is? That's called wearing your research lightly.

Seriously good blog, MillaLite.