Roommates: Can't We All Just Get Along?
What seems to be a culture shock for anyone going to school, city or campus, is roommates. For many students, it’s the first time they leave their comfortable living arrangements at home. This could be a shared room with their sibling, their own room, or a shared bathroom with other family members, either way, they’ve accustomed themselves to this routine for 18 years and can anticipate the annoyances or idiosyncrasies of their family. College; however, marks the first time two to several 18-year-olds are thrown into a living space together despite different upbringings, hometowns, and quirks that are clandestinely ingrained in us from the trials and tribulations of growing up.
I’ve found that these differences are only exacerbated in a foreign environment. In my school, there is no dorm housing. Instead, you apply to private housing for schools in a database. Some schools had their own section on the website, like mine. This housing database owned various apartments in Paris and would match you with roommates for an apartment building. These weren’t student buildings, but actually just regular apartment buildings in Paris that families and working adults lived in, and with four 18-year-old strangers from different countries and backgrounds, what could go wrong?
In my freshman year, I had three roommates. Two girls from Spain, and one girl from the South. While I had met my Southern roommate during orientation, the other two girls remained unknown. As my family and I lugged up my luggage to the apartment, one of my roommates was already in the apartment, talking on the phone.
“Hi!” I whispered and stuck out my hand.
“I am on the phone.” She said with a furrowed eyebrow and thick Spanish accent. I stared blankly and picked up my luggage.
“Sorry” I whispered again. She raised her index finger to her lips to tell me to be quiet. My parents followed behind me and we made our way to my room to begin unpacking my things. I greeted my Southern roommate. We had a spacious room with two French windows between our beds, a closet on the other side of the room and a bathroom tucked into a small nook with a little staircase to reach it.
This time I got back a warm “Hiiii!”, and we hugged. Her mom was there helping her unpack as well. Our parents exchanged contact information in case of any “disasters” and exchanged pleasantries like “not a bad view!” “Can’t believe our girls are in Paris!”
As my roommate and I caught up on our Summers, she explained that our Spanish roommates were not as happy with their sleeping arrangements. “Apparently,” she whispered “There were only supposed to be three of us. We were all supposed to get singles, but since one of the girls requested the other last minute, we’re sharing a double room apartment. But since it wasn’t our fault, we got the bigger room. I think that’s why she’s on the phone, and kinda pissed. Her parents were screaming in Spanish in the apartment all morning.”
“Oh.” I looking around our room. It was spacious. Then the Spanish roommate walked in.
“Hello. I am Claudia!” She said with a smile and a proud stance, almost statuesque. She kissed my roommate on either side of her cheek and did the same with me. “I am sorry for before. My living arrangement is absolutely horrible. Come see.” She spun around and marched through the living room. I assumed that meant I was supposed to follow her, so I did. “Look!” She opened her door and stuck out her arm. I looked around. It was a small room. It would be an appropriate size for one person, but the beds were only one foot apart and the closet was for one.
“I cannot believe this. However, I am not too worried because the company said there may be another apartment. But for now, we will be staying with you girls.” She said with a smile.
“Great!” I said.
“Excellent!” She said with a smile and nod and closed the door to her room. At that moment, the other infamous Spanish roommate walked in.
“Hello! I am Carolina!” She gave me a kiss on both cheeks as well. “It is so nice to meet you! Have you seen our room? Horrible.”
“Yes,” I said, “Horrible.”
The first few days of living together were fun. We all established some ground rules, set up Netflix to the TV and explained which things we were comfortable with sharing. But after the first week, people’s idiosyncrasies began to reveal themselves. The first, and most apparent, was the Claudia and Carolina’s tendency to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. The apartment began to reek of cigarettes, and I found butts in coffee mugs. After conferring with my American roommate, who also was unaccustomed to this culture, we made a “no smoking in the dining room or kitchen rule”. But then the cigarettes switched to weed. Any day at any time, the apartment smelled of weed and Claudia and Carolina were shaking their hips to Bob Marley.
Two weeks in came the infamous guessing game “whose dish is it?” Although we started the year with a dish cleaning schedule, “I’ll get you back” and “I cleaned them yesterday” passes came into effect, and our apartment was just a perpetual mess. I made it a habit of cleaning my dishes every time right after I ate to eliminate the possibility of any of them being mine. Claudia and Carolina; however, would make munchie-fueled concoctions in the dead of the night, and by the morning, have no recollection of their creations. I once saw them eat pasta and asked them to clean the dish from the spot they watched Rick and Morty the night before and they responded “En plan, I do not know who did this”.
After several meetings and passive-aggressive messages in the group chat, I realized nothing was going to change. So I picked up all their dishes from the week and placed them on their bed.
That night, at 10pm, I was scrolling on my computer in bed, and Claudia and Carolina walked in my room “Girls, why are there plates in our beds?”
“I was trying to clean the kitchen and those have been there for a week,” I responded.
“Pero- okay” they looked at each other and left. Then the door opened again and Claudia peaked her head in “Girls, do either of you have cash? A dealer is coming and I do not want to go to the ATM.” We both shook our heads. “Very well.” By the morning, the dishes were cleaned and put back in the cupboard.
One night, a couple of months into school, my roommate and I heard a knock on our door. Carolina and Claudia peeked their heads in. “Girls, may we talk to you?”. My roommate and I looked at each other and motioned to come in. Claudia smiled “I have weed, would you like?” We both said no thanks.
“Where do you meet these dealers exactly?” I asked.
“This is actually a new one. I had never met him before. It is a funny story actually.” She laughed. “I texted and he said he was outside, but I did not see him. There was a car and they said “Uber?” And I told him “I am not looking for an Uber”, and he asked again and I decided to get in.”
“Oh my god. What if he was a serial killer Claudia?” I asked confusedly.
“He was not, Leila. I once met a hitman in Mexico when I lived there for two years, and he explained that people that will kill you are very calm. This man was not. Anyway, he drove me to the ATM, and I got my weed. So we’re good dude.” My roommate and I did our best to contain our laughter. “Anyway girls, I am really here to get your opinion on this guy from school. I cannot tell if he likes me or not.” It was funny because we had practically been living in a radioactive war zone before, and a question so simple diffused all tension. We gathered around her phone, dissected the texts. We gossiped about guys, helped her choose an outfit for her next date, had some wine together, and even made dinner.
Some nights we didn’t talk to each other at all, and some nights we’d have a night like when Claudia asked for our advice. Deep down we all knew we’d probably never talk to each other that much again, but we savored the few moments we did get along.