towards an unspoken code of flatmates and flatting


[ Note: To kabayan going home during Christmas, have fun, spread the wealth around, but please take care.  Cliche-ish, but it’s no longer the same Philippines you left.  Thanks for reading, and thank you for the video ABS-CBN! ]

PRIOR TO Mahal arriving and joining me here in NZ, I was a flatmate with kabayan two out of two years.  Then after Mahal and I went flat-hunting and finally settled on a flat (apartment) we liked, we found a flatmate, then a flatmate, then a flatmate.  It was initially out of necessity, then we realized that as long as the flatmate was reasonably easy to live with, we liked living with flatmates.

We did this, knowing the usual caveats when seeking out and getting accustomed to flatmates: DON’T be flatmates with your best friends (you will always disappoint each other).  DON’T be too close with flatmates.  DON’T generalize and expect behaviors from flatmates according to preconceived notions based on regions (for example, Ilokanos are frugal, Pampangos are boastful, etc).  We based our tendency to look for flatmates on economics,  but also because we knew that Pinoys, for all our faults, liked to help each other, especially Pinoy migrants in the initial stages of settling in New Zealand.  Paying it forward, kumbaga  (so to speak).

Without further ado, here are the do’s and don’t we have accumulated while living and co-existing with flatmates in New Zealand:

DO help with the chores around the house.  On paper, flatmates  only need to clean up after themselves and look after their own junk.  But in practice, it’s always common sense to put yourself in the shoes of the owner / landlord/ flat mate-in-charge, and do whatever is needed for the betterment of the flat. You needn’t go all out, just do a little vacuuming, sweep around the place or water the plants / feed the pet if there’s a garden or house pet. A little effort goes a long way.

DO be sensitive with special needs and situations of flatmates.  If a flatmate is on night shift at least once a month, the week/s he or she is on the graveyard shift, sleeping times are obviously inverted, meaning when you’re awake, they’re trying to rest, and when you’re sleeping, they’re up and about, or just about to come home.  That means we need to be a little quieter around the house, and realize that when we’re ready to be off to work, they’re trying to sleep…

A flatmate and his/her group conducting Bible study / prayer meetings Tuesday early evenings?  Just for that one night (in fact, just for a couple hours), vacating the living room to give them a little more privacy and focus in their godly activity shows not only that you respect their faith, but that you can accommodate people with as much tolerance as possible (as long as it’s not TOO much or abusive na ha, use your own good judgment).

DO be sensitive about shared facilities, particularly toilet and bathroom, kitchen, TV viewing and computers (if the latter is part of the rent).  In most flats, there is only one toilet, and one bathroom.  It shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that where there are between four to six users of such toilet, usage must be distributed equally and sensibly according to need and the different schedules of flatmates.

The need to understand and appreciate the complexity of this reality, the reality of shared use of toilet and bath, is nearly always underestimated and neglected, to the detriment of the flatmate relationship.  For one thing, the call of nature is something that can’t be ignored or delayed, and yet because we fear loss of face, we just can’t tell someone to get out of the toilet because we just HAVE TO let our bowels or bladders loose.  This dilemma and insensitivity on the part of the current toilet user, shallow though it may sound, may later escalate into major arguments that lead to flatmates parting ways.

Use of laptops and desktops are nowadays not so much an issue because of iPads, tablets, phablets and smartphones, but there are still flatting arrangements where the flat sharing fee includes use of a common computer, especially for messaging and emailing.  Which means, the time we get around to messaging and emailing our loved ones in the Philippines, assuming our flatmates are kabayan, are roughly the same.  So you take turns using prime time.

DO recognize that activities or habits that you may consider normal may not be so for other kabayan.  This is primarily why the classifieds and notices for flatmates specifically ask whether the owner/primary flatmate minds smokers, drinkers, socializers, etc.   Pinoys in my experience are generally more tolerant and circumspect about these things but it’s always good practice to ask.  Just ask yourself:  would  non-smokers mind tobacco smoke in the flat?  How much alcohol consumption is too much, and what is considered reasonable?  A good balance of tolerance and rulemaking, being aware of the sensitivities of your flatmates, and managing your own habits is key to being a good flatmate.

DO treat your flatmate/s as decently as you would your friend, relative or co-worker, as if you’d be flatmates forever.  Let’s be honest.  “Flatting,” or renting with flatmates, as it’s called in New Zealand, is at best a temporary arrangement, a relationship of convenience designed to fill gaps, scratch an itch, keep everyone happy until better things materialize.  But it’s not like, let’s just try to co-exist and after this, we’ll never see each other again.  It simply isn’t true.  While we may not be flatmates forever, flatting and being flatmates can be the foundation of a friendship that can last a lifetime.

This becomes possible when you do the simple thing and observe the golden rule.  Do unto your flatmates what you’d want them to do unto you.  Basic things like cleaning up after yourself, keeping quiet when you know flatmates are resting, staying out of the way when flatmates are entertaining visitors, and going out of your way to do household chores, are things that will create comments like, “that Noel?  yeah he was a pretty decent flatmate before he got married,” or “Noel for a flatmate?  we could do a lot worse!

Yeah, I wish I could get comments like those.  But you get the idea.  Be a good flatmate, and ultimately, you will get good flatmates.

You won’t see any of these rules, and you won’t find flatmates talking about it.  But here they are now.

Mabuhay, Maligayang Pasko sa lahat!

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