Posted by: Catherine Weston | August 6, 2012

On being flexible

A few weeks ago, knowing I had a free afternoon, I’d suggested Nelly* (from Vietnam) might call round after lunch, at about 2.  She’d just had to re-sit an exam and had been feeling a bit low. Meanwhile we’d recently heard from our French houseguest that his classmates wanted to come over to cook a Mexican meal.  They had just finished delivering their assessed presentations – an important part of their masters degrees – and needed a day or so off to relax before starting to write their dissertations. Cooking seemed to be a good way to unwind!

When I arrived home, just after noon, I was hungry and looking forward to my lunch of Mexican food. There in the kitchen, just arrived, were Cedric and his two classmates Pablo (from Mexico, hence choice of food) and Odette (also French).  The cooking had clearly barely begun, so, giving my rumbling tummy a stern talking to, I retreated into the study to find some work to do in the meantime. Past experience has taught me it is best to disappear when others are using your kitchen, once you’ve given them a tour of the facilities.  I have to curb my control-freakery otherwise I could end up being very annoying to some young adults who are clearly quite competent with handling food. After all, no one is going to die if oranges are being sliced on the cheese board using the bread knife.

Was Nelly coming? The phone networks had been down and we weren’t quite sure if she had got the Facebook message. We hadn’t heard anything, but we’d learned she often didn’t reply to invitations if she planned to come.  Is that an Asian thing, we wonder, or just the Facebook generation? Delicious smells waft from the kitchen when Nelly turns up as (sort of) expected at 2 pm.  The food isn’t quite ready yet; will there be enough for her to be included? After all I am not really the host for this meal.

We have a conversation on the doorstep that goes something like this:

Nelly: Are you going fruit picking?

Me: Oh! Yes, I’m free today – would you like us to do that this afternoon? (Thinks: I remember she asked about this before, let’s seize the moment)

Nelly: Maybe another day, so we can organise a group – that would be more fun.

Me: But I am free to take you this afternoon! (Thinks: I don’t have the car next week).  Do you have an umbrella? (Like much of this summer there’s rain threatened). I look at her feet – neatly shod in flimsy pumps – and wonder how to fit her size 4s into my size 7 wellies.

Cedric and friends had other plans after the meal so Nelly phoned her housemate about fruit picking and we sat down to a delicious Mexican meal at 2.30 pm, Nelly included.

Incidentally, we did get to the farm to pick strawberries (in the rain) with Nelly and two Chinese girls. The large wellies did fit when worn over her shoes thus keeping them mud-free.

After many years of sharing life with international students I’ve learned the importance of putting aside my own plans and routines so that guests can feel comfortable. Spontaneity and flexibility are not natural to my personality OR culture, but I’d be a lot poorer without them.

(*I have changed all the names to protect the privacy of our friends)

Mexican lunch



  1. Having a Mexican son-in-law, we have also been introduced to some nice Mexican food – delicious! And as for flexibility and spontenaity – well they are pre-requisites for any international context – whether in the family (we represent six nationalities in our immediate family!), in a student context or on the mission field!! Reminds me of what Paul wrote to Timothy – to “be ready in season and out of season” (II Tim 4:2)

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