Family Guy: Why I'll never take in a foreign student again...
THIRD down the food chain in our family of four silently seething teens is the collapsible, six-foot beanpole in the loft who's counting down to a sort of foreign exchange trip to France for a month.
He does this through the medium of shrugs.
"Have you packed your bathers?" frets his mothers.
"I haven't packed anything," he mutters wearily from under bedclothes.
"Do you have enough socks?" she says. "Oh God," he moans.
The best thing about this exchange is that it's not an actual exchange at all. He just goes. We don't have to take anyone.
"Why's it called a foreign exchange then?" I squint suspiciously, leafing through information sheets.
"It's probably not," sighs my wife. "That's just what I call it."
She emphasises the word 'I' as if to make it quite clear that it's really none of my business what she calls it.
"Oh," I say, still squinting.
I rifle through the papers, dropping bits and mixing them up. Somewhere I read, the purpose of this trip is to build a shelter. I've been boasting about this.
"You do know it's not a homeless shelter," my wife mind-reads, gathering the papers from my hand impatiently and confiscating them.
"I do?" I say. "I mean, I do, of course."
I count down from five in my head, hoping this is enough before asking the next question without repercussion. "What kind of shelter is it, then?"
"It's a skate-park shelter," she says coolly.
"It is?" I say. "I mean, it is. Of course."
All those poor skateboarders, popping their wheelies... or whatever... and not a bit of shelter should it start to sprinkle.
"And," says my wife, extruding a sheet of paper, with fingernails, from the ruffled bunch I messed up, turning it and putting it back, "best of all, the whole thing is paid for by the EU."
"Well, I'm glad to see they have their priorities straight at least," I tell her.
I sit for a while wondering how the teen we're sending over will be perceived by his French hosts.
Heaven knows the bewildering succession of cultural castaways we took in when I was a kid were quite beyond anything we'd ever encountered.
Our first was the seven-foot son of a Spanish military attaché and named Carlos Alberto Jose Maria De Las Mercedes Acosta Fernandez. Or something like that. I could never quite get past 'Maria'.
Karloff, as my mother called him , would follow her all over the house, yammering on and on from his cloud of aftershave with his Castilian lisp.
Even when she went to the bathroom, he'd stand outside and shout through the door. He was like a great big oily brown sheep, shadowing her every move until she began developing a twitch in her cheek.
From then on, the foreign students, my mother's sole source of independent income for three interminable summers, were for me to occupy.
The very next was a rich teenage girl from Madrid; husky, olive-skinned and so pretty my toes hurt. She was only about two years older but it may as well have been 10. She looked at me like I was a little boy and I could barely look at her at all.
"Take Gabriela out for a walk, show her around," grinned my dad."And wear those little shorts I laid out for you," added my mother helpfully.
I gaped from one parent to the other, mute with mortification, then at Gabriela who observed me down that regal Spanish nose with her hooded, doe-like eyes.
"Just leave me alone!" I shrieked, running upstairs and slamming the door to my room, where I remained hidden for the next three weeks, chewing my arm with the agony of it all.
Every summer after that it was just one perfumed pouting French boy in aquamarine tennis gear after another, and the harder I tried to get in on the burgeoning neighbourhood punk scene of the time, the more painfully fey seemed the students I was forced to have tagging along.
I did everything I could to lose and evade them, to my shame, even sending them off on fool's errands to dangerous parts of the city and praying for the worst possible outcome, until my mother finally relented, possibly fearing a civil action case, and our role as international hosts ended.
I think of our six-foot rake now with his threadbare skateboarder knees and thousand-yard stare.
How I wish we could have had a foreign student like him when I was a teen.
"I wonder if I should pick him up some nice new clothes before he goes," says my wife. "Some nice shorts or something."
"Honestly," I growl. "I think he'll be grand."