Upholding a social life – certainly the fun part that involves loud discussions, sex, quarrelling and loud music – is hard to do in the close proximity of your parents.
Let’s face it: Knowing mum is in the next room is not good for romance. And it is hard to hold a good party for your friends if the guests have to be out before your parents’ curfew.
But for many students, harsh economic realities postpone the time when they can make a home of their own. Southern and Eastern Europeans traditionally stay at home longer than Northern and Western Europeans and some sources say that the present crisis which has hit Southern Europeans the hardest, is keeping students with their parents.
Coming home was a shock
Take Eleftheria Gritsi from Athens, Greece for example: She is 27. She graduated two years ago from Copenhagen’s Swedish neighbour, Lund University. She got a job – »miraculously,« she says – in a publishing house in Athens. She has a German boyfriend. And she lives at home with her mum.
»I would prefer to live alone,« admits Eleftheria under her breath over the phone with the University Post. She then laughs. Her mother, not quite fluent in English, is sitting right next to her.
»It was a huge shock living two years independently in Sweden to do my Master’s, and then having to move back to my parents’ house. But I just couldn’t plan ahead, and ended up here. You know: It is even common here for people to return to their parents’ houses if they are married,« she says.
The first period after moving back was the worst.
»It was a disaster! It was not the space that I didn’t have, as I almost have more room here. It was the lack of time. I no longer had control over my own time.«
Eleftheria has two older siblings, and they have both moved out.
»And then there is the authority thing,« she says. »If you move in with a boyfriend or girlfriend you can re-arrange things, adapt to each other. With parents, they still have the authority to set the rules.«
Her German boyfriend, though living abroad, is a frequent visitor, and this makes for some awkwardness.
»We try to keep it discreet,« says Eleftheria. »We try to spend weekends away from the house, or in the house when my parents are out. Luckily I do have a room of my own and I close the door sometimes. I know my mother is next door, and it is not comfortable for my boyfriend either, but we have to live with it,« she says. She adds that to move in with him, living in a different country, would be a big step.
Leire Oyanguren, a University of Copenhagen student from the Basque town of Irun in Spain, is sharing an apartment in Copenhagen with two friends. This summer, for the first time in several years, she faces the uneasy prospect of moving in with her parents again, even though it is only temporarily.
Her elder sister and many of her former classmates at the University of Bilbao live with their parents. Not having the freedom to do what you want, and when you want, is a constant topic among family and friends.
»Bringing your boyfriend home will always bring on tension with your parents,« she says
Upholding a love life in close proximity to your parents involves compromise.
»Parents coming in on an embarrassing situation, might be a funny anecdote for the rest of your life, but it is not much fun when it happens,« muses Leire. The weirdness multiplies when you have lived away from your parents, and then move back.
As it happens, Leire’s living-at-home sister has found a way to make things work. »Her boyfriend always visits when our parents are not at home,« she says.
Car is the new bedroom
Juan Mompean, a 22-year old computer science exchange student from Murcia, Spain, is taking a year off from living with his parents to study in Copenhagen. He now has his own room and his own kitchen in a private house.
Talking to him, you get the feeling that Spain is a special case when it comes to the ‘living at home with your parents’ complex.
Police are having a hard time preventing massive parties in public parks, the so-called botellons, or ‘big bottles’, he recounts. »Every weekend in Murcia, if you go to some parks there are literally thousands of people. If police catch you, it is a EUR 100 fine« he says.
And it turns out the nightly park visitors are not there to enjoy the birds and flowers. It is about cheap alcohol, and a way to get away from expensive bars and the stifling social mores of their parents.
If young people need to find an even more private place to have sex, then cars are the thing in Spain, according to Juan. A website, mispicaderos.net, allows users to plot good places to park your car outside the gaze of unwelcome intruders. Juan, entering the website as he talks to the University Post notes that it has »7,000 places: Wow, that is a lot I did not realise there were that many!«
And why? It is all about living with your parents, and maintaining a sex life at the same time, explains Juan with a disarming frankness.
»It is difficult, and it is something that I talk to my friends about back at home. It depends on the family. In some families, you can ‘take your girlfriend home’, sometimes you have to wait until your family is out of the house. Sometimes you have to use a car,« he says.
Home does have some perks
Juan’s sister is 26, has graduated from university, and has been lucky to find a job in marketing. Juan freely speculates on her situation.
»She has had a boyfriend for the last six years. I don’t honestly know how they do it, and it must be difficult for them« he says, »but I guess they must find their moments, maybe the car is in use,« he laughs.
Living with parents is not all bad, according to surveys. According to a recent study in 18 European countries more than three out of four students who lived with their parents were satisfied with the arrangement. The specific reasons for this satisfaction were not specified.
Juan himself presently has no girlfriend.
Here in Copenhagen, without mum, he now has to do the cooking, he says, adding that this often involves »the use of the microwave oven«.
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