April 2013: Moving In

Relocating is never easy.

Beside all of the rigamarole involved in the actual process of moving, there’s the whole settling-in aspect once you’re where you are going.

It’s even worse if you’re not moving directly into a new home, but staying with someone else.

It’s like staying at a friend’s home while you’re on vacation – you may know that they want you there, that they’re happy to see you and have you around; but there’s always that nagging fear in the back of your mind that you’re going to do something wrong, no matter how innocent, that will not only make you no longer welcome at your friends’ house, but no longer friends, period.

Except, when you are staying with them indefinitely, there’s no definite end in sight. It’s hard to settle in on a floor of eggshells without making any noise.

That’s the first thing I notice when staying somewhere new: noise. Well, sounds, really, not all of which are noise. Innocent new sounds are introduced and innocent old sounds I was once used to are gone. In my old house, I knew immediately where anyone was moving just by the specific creaking of the floor. Not only could I tell who it was, I could tell how fast they walked, which direction they were moving, how much they were carrying, and whether or not the cat was trying to trip them and kill them. (He, apparently, also listened.)

Now, I am acutely aware of all the different noises. I’m especially acutely aware of the noises I make. Every accidental knee to a cupboard door or forehead to the chandelier; every closed door and squeaking hinge; every floor creak and carpet scruff. I know I’ll get used to them in time; for now, however, I’m still in the terrifying zone of Not Wanting To Offend. (It’s going to take time and careful observation, for instance, to determine just how loud I can be in the bathroom before anyone else can hear me.)

(The cat, however, is adjusting far faster than I. I expect to see him resuming his attempts to trip the carriers of groceries any time now.)

Noise is just one part of the equation, of course. I try to help out around the house, earning my keep so to speak, but I’m limited by two things: one, I don’t know yet where everything is kept, and two, I don’t want to overdo it, thereby implying that my hosts don’t meet my standards.

It’s one thing to clean the kitchen. It’s another thing to clean the kitchen so well that my friends will see it as a comment on their own lack of cleanliness; obviously, I must see something wrong with their own methods of cleaning if I had to go and clean the kitchen better and more thoroughly than they do themselves!

I’m probably overreacting. I’m sure most people when presented with a clean kitchen will think, “Wow! Clean kitchen!” instead of “Wow. What a jerk. He obviously thinks I’m a slob. And his cat is trying to trip me.”

Of course, to err on the other side is just as bad. Not keeping the house as clean as my hosts like will make me look just as bad. So I have to look for that sweet spot of chore doing- just enough to be useful; not enough to condemn. Meanwhile, I’m also trying to find where that mystery utensil from the dishwasher belongs, which usually ends up just resting casually in a spot that is as inoffensive and out-of-the-way as I can possibly find.

Groceries and food make up another murky condition. What is communal, and what is mine when I buy it? Should I keep some things in my room just for myself, or would that be rude? If the entire bag of raisin bran cereal I bought is empty the next day and I didn’t even get any myself, should I be angry, or buy a bigger bag next time, or eat something of theirs to make up for it? If someone eats some of my ice cream, do I tell them that I was eating it myself straight from the carton, or just remain quiet, following the rule of what they don’t know won’t hurt them? If I eat my toasted cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise and jelly on them, will they think I’m weird? Does licking all the doughnuts to mark them as mine make any difference if no one is there to see me do it?

(Addressing the great number and variety of odors and scents humans can make would take an entire column on its own, so I’m just going to say I try not to be too smelly and leave it at that.)

It’s not that I think of myself as offensive; it’s just that I’m aware of how easy it is to offend. I’m not overly squeamish, either, but it’s far easier to dismiss a hair in my soup or on my soap when I know it could only have come from myself, as opposed to the bewildering option of sources available at this unknown, new place. Like most people presumably, I find my own dirt is far more sanitary than other persons’. (I mean, I know where my toenail clippings have been, at least!)

(Conversely comes the shudderingly sudden realization than others in the house are probably finding stray hairs from me …)

Regardless of where the mystery hair may have come from, it can only mean one thing: I need to clean the kitchen.

After I pick up all the spilled groceries.

And scold the cat.

Again.

At least some things are returning to normal.

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