For many expats, it’s the summer – a time for house guests, who often stay for longer than a week. It’s important not to underestimate the effort it takes to host people, be they family or friends, and no matter how much you enjoy their company. Here’s a few pointers I’ve cobbled together from my decades of experience:-
– Don’t be afraid to limit their duration. Family members coming over for a month and more is one thing, but friends and their broods staying for three weeks (if that’s too long for you) should be politely told that only two weeks is convenient. If they insist on asking why, make something up; they’ll never know.- Manage their expectations; it’s often difficult from a time and money perspective, to accompany your guests on every outing. It’s also slightly unfair of them to expect you to drop everything and ferry them around (unless you’re happy to do that). This can get difficult if you live in the middle of nowhere with no access to public transport though, so suggest car rental, or look into putting them on your car insurance for the visit, – if you’re comfortable handing over your car to people who might not be used to driving on the right. Before they arrive, explain that although you’re thrilled they’re coming, you will need time to work/do laundry/ do the shopping/tend to your kids.
– Have them think about what they want to do before they arrive. Some guests land on your doorstep, get up each morning and greet you with “What are we doing today?” If you’re happy with that, ask them what kind of things they’re interested in so that you know what to suggest. Otherwise, encourage them to research your area and make a rough plan of what they want to do and when. If you have any scheduled events for you or your family, be sure to tell your guests before they begin planning.
– When they arrive, it’s important to clarify any rules you might have as soon as you can, otherwise you’ll find yourself getting more and more irritated while your guests blithely continue whatever it is they’re doing because they’ll have no idea it’s driving you insane. If you don’t want kids eating in the bedrooms, living room etc. ask them to return to the kitchen the very first time; no huffing and puffing and expecting people to read your mind. etc
– It’s also a good idea to tell them where to find the basics in your house, so that they can help themselves rather than having to get you to do everything. Show them where the clean towels are, extra loo paper, and so on. If they are staying for weeks, it might be worth having a discussion about how often the sheets are usually changed (and who’s going to change them).
– Take them shopping with you if you’re finding it a financial burden to feed extra people over a two week period. This way, there’s a chance they’ll pony up some money at the check out. If you’re feeling really brave, you could push a shopping cart in their general direction and suggest they pick up the treats and snacks their kids like.
– Accept offers to help. Cooking for an extra crowd every day is hard work, so if someone offers to make a meal – let them do it. Ditto if they offer to take you out or suggest you go out to eat. There are no medals in guest hosting.
– Don’t be afraid to turn down requests to stay if you don’t want to host someone. It’s obviously not easy to do that with family, but if someone you haven’t communicated with for ten years suddenly phones or e-mails saying they’d like to bring the family, it’s usually code for “We’d like to see (your country) on the cheap”. Again, you can tell them pretty much anything you like as you’re not going to bump into them in the local supermarket.
Toni Summers Hargis has a new book – “The Stress-Free Guide to Studying In the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students”. (Summertime). She is also the author of “Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom” (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.
Read Toni's other Expat Focus articles here.