Essay

Culture Under Cover

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by Katy Sundararajan

My husband, JP, and I bought our first house about a year and half after we were married. The two-story house with beautiful wood trim throughout had been purchased by a relocation agency, and had been empty for a number of months before we got our hands on it. During that time all of the appliances had been relocated as well, and while some had been replaced by not-so-stellar seconds, the washer and dryer were still at large. There was a nice gaping space for laundry just off the kitchen. We felt powerful and proud picking out some new, efficient laundry machines. We were truly grownups now! We scheduled the delivery for a few days later and began moving our boxes and other meager possessions. We didn’t have much. My husband still likes to brag that he moved 90% of our belongings from the rental home to the new home with our Hyundai Elantra. I remember pushing the wheelbarrow filled with yard items the six blocks between homes. It was a piecemeal operation if I ever saw one.

After a day of moving, I noticed that the laundry cupboard had no real floor covering. I figured it would be prudent to get something in there ahead of the soon-to-arrive appliances. Problematically, I had to work. This left everything up to JP including finding, choosing, purchasing, and installing some sort of new floor covering.

We hadn’t been married very long, but it had been long enough to establish that JP was not a handy guy, and that he should not to be trusted with decisions regarding home design or decorating. However, as I mentioned, I had to work and the washer and dryer were practically on their way. It would be up to JP to not be intimidated by the 3’x6’ cupboard. And, even if it didn’t go well, most of that teeny, tiny floor would be covered by the new washer and dryer anyway. It really shouldn’t be a big deal.

I went to the office and attended a meeting. JP went to Lowe’s. By the time I came home from work both the flooring and the washer and dryer were installed. I wasn’t very thrilled with the flooring, actually. When the guys installed the washer, it snagged on the very thin piece of flooring, and ripped a small v-shape in it directly in front of the washer. I was pretty bummed about it. And then, my husband told me one of the best cross-cultural stories I’ve ever heard.

When he went into Lowe’s that morning and explained to one of their employees what he needed, he was directed to the remnant section. JP found an ideal piece of faux wood-grain flooring that he figured would be perfect because it was only 4 feet wide and could easily be trimmed to fit. Plus, it was dirt cheap. The only problem, I suppose, was that it was 25 feet long. I can still kind of picture JP paying at the register and then strolling through the parking lot with that thing over his shoulder and a grin on his face as he headed toward the Elantra.

To be fair, the back seat in our car folded down so you could slide things in through the trunk, long things like skis, and fishing poles, and extra long pieces of remnant flooring. JP says that even after he slid the tube all the way up to the windshield it had to have been hanging out the back of the car by at least 12 feet.

I shudder to think of what happened next, without any sort of flag attached to the back of that tube. Figuring it would be much safer to go slowly, and with the flashers flashing, of course, JP pulled out onto the business highway and drove 20 MPH back to our new house- with something resembling a flagpole sticking nicely out the back of our trunk.

While JP was eager to tell me all about the cutting and installation of the flooring, which involved a box of tiny nails being spilled all over just as the delivery guys arrived, I just kept going back to the part about driving the Elantra home (albeit with extreme caution) with a 12 foot protrusion out of the back end. In waves, I was falling over myself with the hilarity of it, and having heart palpitations due to the danger of it.

This is one of my favorite examples of how you just can’t take the culture out of the boy. It took some pretty careful explaining on my part for JP to grasp the enormity and seriousness of how many things could have gone wrong while driving a 4’x25’ foot tube of flooring home from the store.

We have told this story to any number of people who get bent over with giggles by the end of it- so long as they are average, law-abiding Americans. Any Indian who has sat through this story blinks quietly at the end and wonders what the big deal is and what the punch line is that we seemed to be offering. Indian roads are filled to the brim with cooky sights and all manner of dangerous and radical acts by pure necessity and simple force of will. I have witnessed any and all tall or wide or unwieldy items being transported on any assortment of vehicles through Indian streets. Certainly even Indians will gape and gawk, but then they are first to edge their vehicle to the side and make way for any odd vehicle.

That day, when JP drove the extra long tube of flooring home, he was just doing what any right thinking Indian would do. He’d likely do it a bit differently now, more than ten years later, but you’re still just as likely today to uncover a vivid and colorful cultural episode at any turn with him. I hope you’re up for the adventure.

Katy Sundararajan is the Th.M. Program Administrator and International Student Advisor at Western Theological Seminary.

 

Katy Sundararajan

Katy Sundararajan lives in Holland, Michigan with her husband and two children, but she has left her heart in a whole host of places called home. She values thoughtful writing that allows us to ponder something small and recognize in it, something big

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