Home: An Acculturation Guide

Thinking about our upcoming Thanksgiving holiday next week reminded me of something that I learned early in my first year at Harvard and that many of this year's first-years will probably soon realize: Once you've been at college for a few months, living back at home with the parents is more awkward and difficult than you ever would have imagined.

There are the new habits you've picked up at college that, although completely commonplace in a university setting, may seem a little strange when taken in the context of normal home life. Take sleeping patterns, for instance. In my mind, pulling an all-nighter to pack the night before leaving for break seems like a reasonable thing to do. Equally reasonable is the 17 hours of continuous recovery sleep I need during that first day back home. My mother, of course, sees this extended rest as a clear indication that I have mono and insists that I go to the doctor.

Bathroom habits present another set of issues. At school, I have become accustomed to reading the newspapers strewn across the floor of the bathroom stall so that I may learn something new while using the facilities. After all, at a prestigious intellectual institution like Harvard, even dropping the kids off at the pool (if you know what I mean) should be an academic pursuit. By the same token, whenever I bring a newspaper into the bathroom with me, I am generous enough to leave it on the floor for others to read. The result is a free, thriving library of various newspapers, periodicals and other "literature" for all to enjoy during their most solitary moments. Needless to say, of course, my parents don't particularly appreciate the transformation of their bathroom into a newspaper recycling facility.

I must admit, however, that there are certain amenities provided by my bathroom at home that are simply not available in a Winthrop House bathroom. For one thing, it's nice not to have to deal with a sink that hits the basin at such an angle that the water splashes back onto your clothing, making it look, every morning, like you just got a little too excited about your upcoming economics lecture. More importantly, the home presence of angelically soft toilet paper cannot be overappreciated. That's not to say I don't appreciate the College's two-ply version of "toilet paper." In fact, I wholeheartedly encourage Harvard to continue its exploration of the potential uses for sandpaper in non-construction-related markets like bathroom hygiene.

Simple everyday tasks around the family take on aspects of college life as well. For example, the seniors out there may well find themselves accustomed to treating every conversation with a family member older than 25 as if it were part of the grueling interview process currently preoccupying most of their lives. For example:

Older sister: "Hey, what do you want to do tonight?"

Harvard senior: "Well, I think the first step is to define what we mean by 'what to do tonight.' [Makes quotation mark signs with fingers.] Certainly there are a number of diverse proposals that we could put forward on several fronts, of course analyzing the cogent arguments inherent in each possibility. However, this is not to say that we should simply jettison more traditional applications, for doing so would effectively preclude our use of several standard frameworks for solving the problem. Did I mention I'm a real 'people person'?"

Older sister: "I think I'll go somewhere alone."

In addition, with more and more student services met through the fully automated system of Crimson Cash/Board Plus/Greenhouse Greenbacks/Whatever The Hell They Call It, students on break will have to resist the temptation to reach for a swipe card when wishing to open a door, take a Coke from the fridge or run a load of laundry. And there's no need to "term-bill" anything while at home; Mom's purse is only an arm's length away (too bad it's often accompanied by Mom).

Furthermore, it goes without saying that there is a whole vocabulary of vulgar words and phrases that are commonplace in college conversation but are less than appreciated in the daily interactions of home life. Terms like "response paper," "UC elections" and "Loker Commons" come to mind most immediately, but there are a host of others. Nor will your parents be particularly receptive to tales of college life involving wild nights of debauchery and hedonism. So tell your sister from Duke or Georgetown or whatever real colleges are out there to tone it down, or perhaps you can at least offer instead to recount (once again) the story of that one crazy night at Pinocchio's when they put cheese on your hamburger sub and failed to charge extra. Whooo, that was quite an evening.

Yes, living at home, even for the shortest period of time, can be quite a trying and uncomfortable experience after time at college. If the Thanksgiving break wasn't enough to convince you of that, just wait until winter break. In closing, I leave everyone with one piece of advice. Avoid referring to college as "home" in front of your parents--their reaction will be less than positive.

George W. Hicks '99-'00 is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.