When we talk about culture shock we usually mean finding that things are done differently in another country, and this seasoned traveler is used to that by now. What I hadn’t experienced until recently – not for many years, anyway – was age-related culture shock.
We’ve got a teenager living with us for a while. A thirteen-year-old niece. Nice girl, does her fair share of the washing up, showers the dog, even cooks occasionally. A bit finicky with her eating for my liking, but I’m working on it.
I walked into the TV room the other day to find it freezing cold with airconditioning (she doesn’t have to pay the electricity bill) and as dark as a mole’s armpit. The TV was on, so I sat down to have a look. The Vampire Diaries. An American TV series.
I don’t know if you have had the pleasure, but allow me to explain the central premise. Two young men who happen to be vampires live in the very strange town of Mystic Falls, a supernatural place of witches and weirdness.
This being an American youth series, everyone in it is beautiful – boys, girls and adults – but there aren’t too many of the latter because adults are like boring and kids are cool. You know the kind of thing. Beverly Hills 90210. Looks United 10, Brain City 0.
Eliciting information about this show from my niece is not easy, because she is Venezuelan and speaks Spanish, but she knows more about it than she does about, say, geography.
Damon and Stefan (the vampires) are, as far as I can tell after one episode, good vamp and bad vamp. One (don’t ask me which) appears to have his fiendish urges under control, while the other is desperate to drink some human blood. To this end we find him in a nearby clearing in the woods with a blonde who doesn’t seem afraid of him, even as he tells her what he’s going to do to her carotid artery. There is a technique, he says, and it can be done neatly, with little mess. He has to strongly advise her to be scared and run away, which she does, but then she comes back and he duly has a pint of O Positive direct from her neck and she doesn’t seem to mind that either.
Clearly I have missed a lot of information due to not watching the previous episodes, but I’m afraid life is too short to correct that now.
Being a teen soap opera, not only is everyone gorgeous, but they are also unhappy, falling in love with the wrong boy, biting the neck of the wrong girl and so on. And apparently there is a power shortage in Mystic Falls, so every scene is lit by a torch on one side of the face only. Spooky, dude.
My niece invited me to watch again the next day, but unfortunately I had a date with Chelsea and a Champions League match against Porto. She declined my equally magnanimous offer to watch it with me.
She went into her room and did a bit of Facebooking (I assume that’s what she did, anyway, because she posts something every day). Chelsea won 2-0 and everybody was happy.
That’s another bit of culture shock, actually, because my now-grownup kids are sons. Plus, they didn’t spend much time holed up in their rooms. And even if they had, I would have been able to exercise my right to barge in there. I’m trying to be a good male role model for this girl, but it’s very different. I’m suspicious of her friends, who are likely to try to drag her into rampant adulthood before she – or do I mean I – is ready for it. The only schoolmates she has brought home so far (to bake a cake) were three of the nerdiest boys I’ve ever met, who insisted on calling me ‘Sir’. Obviously this was a smokescreen designed to lull me into a false sense of security.
Undaunted after the vampires lost to the football, the girl organized a karaoke session using the television and YouTube, with a remote control unit as a microphone. Me, her, my wife and grandma.
My natural inclination to play the fool was quickly stamped upon. “Take it seriously”, they ordered me, recording it on a phone to show to classmates and probably put on Facebook eventually. I gave them And I Love You So, the Don McLean version, serious as you like, and it brought the house down.
My niece did something in Spanish that I had never heard of, my wife did something I had heard of but didn’t recognize and grandma pretended she didn’t understand.
I’m with you, grandma. What is going on?