Family Blind Date
Subject: Family blind date
Place: Seattle, Washington State, USA
That first date feeling
Your palms are sweating as you ring the doorbell. Will you find them attractive? Will the conversation flow? Do they want kids? Your hands clutch a brown paper bag with the medium priced wine you just bought from the gas station and a bunch of assorted flowers. Do they even like wine? Might they be allergic to pollen? You’ve really no idea.
The door opens and you thrust the gift into their hands, nervously babbling on about the weather. Then their partner appears behind them and you check them out too. You know from experience how important first impressions are. Will you have anything in common? How does their place look? After all, you’re about to move in with them for twenty four hours.
Family blind dates
No, this isn’t an episode of Wife Swap, but another Family Blind Date. Over the last nine months we’ve spent a lot of time visiting with families, having dinner with them, getting their stories down on tape for the website, chatting about shared experiences, then crashing out on their bed, floor or sofa. It’s been one of the more interesting aspects of our trip around the world, but it hasn’t always been a comfortable adventure. As we stand on their front step, we’ve never been able to predict what might happen when the door opens.
Our experiences have included a family where the father hated kids; any kids, including ours and his own, and the very idea of travelling with them made him choke on his barbecued sausages. Then there was the couple who’d just split up, whose raw emotions and bitter grief spilled over into their wine glasses, and the family who brought their favourite cow Annie out of the freezer to celebrate our arrival over dinner, then gave us their waterbed for the night, turning us green with seasickness.
Strange but always generous
But no matter how bizarre the experience, their hospitality has always been generous to the point of overwhelming. We’ve had barbecues, picnics and garden parties in our honour, families have taken time off work to show us around, and they’ve taken the kids off our hands to let us sleep or be ill, or grasp a deep breath and plan the next stages of the journey. Some have even vicariously invited us to stay with their parents, or grandparents or children. They’ve fed us and wined us, sometimes dressed us, and never asked for anything in return.
Many have travelled extensively and feel it’s their own way of repaying the hospitality they’ve received from strangers during their own adventures. Others realise how good the simple pleasures of life can be when you’ve been denied them for almost a year. A hot bath, a home cooked meal, a read of the Sunday papers or a snooze on cotton sheets. All are bliss to a family of cycle camping gypsies.
But Family Blind Dates aren’t restricted to complete strangers. We recently spent time with a family in Victoria, British Columbia that we were actually related to. It wasn’t quite an unknown as I had met them two or three times before in my lifetime. But the date still covered the traditional bases; the shy introductory stage where the children pretended to be mice, and the grown ups felt their way around the conversation; then getting to know each other over dinner, when the conversation became more relaxed as alcohol flowed; and finally the tricky subject of sleeping arrangements.
But as this was genuine family, we happily gave them our dirty washing and stayed the whole weekend. And as with any date, the more you have in common the better it goes. By the end of our time with them, after thoroughly discussing shared family history, geography and gossip we felt as if we could move in and set up home with them.
As we left, they plied us with gifts; matching T shirts of Canada, matching Canadian tattoos inscribed with the maple leaf flag, traditional Canadian jewellery, pens and a range of books and toys. Since then most people we’ve met have assumed we are very proud citizens of beautiful British Columbia.
Bonds forged through travel
The one thing we’ve found on all our blind dates is that travel can be a unique bond. It instantly slices through cultural differences and personalities, and forgives any mistakes. Our latest visit was with the Ebers, a family we had come across through the internet. At the same time we were setting out on our own journey, they were just completing their own epic adventure; cycling around the world with their two teenage daughters.
Fifteen year old Anya and thirteen year old Yvonne were two highly confident articulate children, with a passion for world travel and history. Their parents, Paula and Lorenz were still trying to come to terms with being home and thrust back into the rat race and were glad to talk to some like minded spirits. We made ourselves instantly comfortable in their place on Bainbridge Island, put our feet up on their leather sofas, and chatted into the night.
But after nine months away, none of us are house trained any more. Kirstie broke her wine glass, Cameron wet his bed, Stuart ate more than his fair share of chocolate brownies and Matthew petted their bunny rabbit to the point of exhaustion. But then, no one ever said the Wickes family were a cheap date.
And now, as we begin our tour of the big American cities, we hope to find our perfect match in Washington DC, Chicago, Boston or New York. Are you a family with a good sense of humour who likes to travel and owns their own home? Then listen out for the doorbell, as we may be coming your way.