Such a large chunk of life happens in the kitchen. It’s where we cook, where we sit together to chat, where we eat and where we gather. In both of the countries I visited these past four months, the US and the UK, I’ve been able to get insight into other homes and kitchens and I’ve learned how differently other people’s homes work.
Currently, I live in a shared accommodation on campus at the University of Kent in Canterbury. I share the small house with other male and female students from very different countries, amongst others from the US, Japan, Uganda and from Jordan. Being a part of this communal living environment definitely removes me from my comfort zone at times, but it has also been really refreshing and fascinating. As we don’t have a living room, only a kitchen, we usually gather there whenever we get tired of our own rooms. The kitchen is therefore also the space where people host house parties, where people spill food, where the trash can fills up very easily and it is hence the place that needs to be cleaned most often. My best friend in the house and I regularly become a little bit irritated with some of our housemates. Whilst we enjoy their company, we definitely dislike their cleaning habits as they usually leave it to the cleaning services who come once a month, which we consider not at all enough.
In my opinion, “cleaning” itself isn’t that different in the US or the UK compared to Switzerland; what makes the difference to me are the people involved, their age, their gender and especially their social status. My wealthy guest mother in the US lives in a very large, mansion-like house, and she is used to having WorkAwayers clean for her. Everything needed to be spotless whilst I was there, and there are certain things she places great value on, like for example the cleaning of the marble countertops. My current housemates in my shared accommodation come from all kinds of upbringings, but I can make out rather easily that some had to help with cleaning their whole life whilst others probably don’t have to do much at home. Whilst some of us vacuum and mop the floor when it is dirty, others just don’t really notice the dirt at all; whilst some do their dishes after leaving them in the sink for a day at most, others just forget about theirs for days.
Living in different homes has also put my own cleaning habits into perspective. Both the extensive cleaning duties in the US as well as living with some rather messy people here have shown me more sides of the “cleaning spectrum”; the experiences have pushed me out of my comfort zone and have taught me about what I want and what I don’t want in my own home. I’ve had to take responsibility and change my habits drastically, but also learn to deal with other people and negotiate cleaning duties. All that has been very new and challenging, but also very eye-opening.
In conclusion I can say that, for me, most of the frustration in terms of cleaning is connected to the feeling of unfairness or being left alone. To me, a household works well when everyone shows interest in making it work, and people get frustrated when they feel like they have to do everything on their own (like I did in the US) or when they feel like the other parties involved don’t fully work with them (as it is the case in my shared house). Despite all that, I value that all of my housemates try to communicate and work together, despite different upbringings and views.
I’d like to add that our kitchen has been the venue of loads of fun, joy, good food and great evenings spent together laughing, eating and chatting, which shouldn’t be left out. Many of my friends and housemates here don’t know how to cook, and it has been a pleasure to cook for and have awesome dinners with them. The kitchen has become both burden and delight, and that is definitely okay with me, as I’m learning and growing day after day.