When my daughter was 22, in her last year of university, she spent a lot of time with her boyfriend's family. She was surprised to discover that his family had meals together, "They all sat down at a table and had conversations. Nobody read - or watched TV."
"Was it fun?" I asked.
"It was difficult."
"Did it get easier?"
"Sometimes, sometimes not."
Ouch. This was news to me. During her years at elementary school, it was mostly just the two of us at mealtime. She had a child's picnic table in the living room where she played with her imaginary friends, read books, ate meals, and watched TV. Of course we had many meals with friends and extended family members, but she was always most comfortable sitting at her picnic table eating Cheerios. When she grew out of the table, I gave it away to friends who had a toddler. She's still kind of mad about that.
We grow used to our family's ways of doing things. As children, we visit other neighbours or our parents take us to their friends' homes and it can be like visiting a foreign land. I recall peering through locked glass doors in my cousin's house and seeing elegant living room furniture covered in plastic. How could this be?
A visitor to my childhood home said with astonishment, "You're allowed in every room in your house?" Even if my parents wanted to keep a room child-free, they couldn't. There were eight of us: five children, two parents, and my grandmother -- more of us than rooms in the house.
It can take a while to shake the belief that one's family is the norm. My family always had two salt shakers on the table. I didn't realize till I was in my 20s that, in most families, the other salt shaker was for pepper, a spice too exotic for us.
Were you ever surprised by the practices of other families?