It’s vacation season, and airport lounges around the world are stuffed to overflowing with tired parents, overexcited children, and the burgeoning expectations of fun weeks to come. Meanwhile, in their temporary homes on the other side of the world, expat families are bracing themselves for the roller coaster ride of emotions triggered by the arriving guests. .
I love visitors. They remind you that you have roots somewhere, that despite no-one knowing your name in your new location, there are still people who would notice if you dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow. Having someone willing to travel halfway across the world to spend time with you is an incredible gift, and allows that wonderful moment of transition between your different worlds, introducing the old to the new.
It’s a bittersweet, double edged sword. On one hand, you can’t wait to see everyone, bringing memories of home and catching up with their lives and their families. But any period longer than a week and you are inevitably juggling the demands of hosting, family commitments and generally keeping daily life running. And feeling incredibly guilty about not being the Martha Stewart of hosts.
No matter how many visitors we have, we seem to go through the same phases:
Anticipation. The excitement of knowing that someone you love is traveling miles to see you – it’s the ultimate validation of your importance to others. It’s having someone from your former life cross over to your new life, and the joy of being able to share the best bits with them. You spend hours mentally planning the time you will spend together, and all of it involves laughter, sunshine and good food. Funnily enough, laundry, cooking and cleaning do not feature at all..
Arrival. Anyone who has ever seem Love Actually will know that there is nothing quite like waiting at the airport arrivals lounge and seeing a familiar face walk through. Sadly, you have been in transit for 24 hours, and can barely string two coherent words together, let alone answer a barrage of questions. We have planned a fun family dinner to welcome you, and you still have the residual nausea that scrambled egg croissants at 30,000 ft inevitably cause. And it’s 3 in the morning your time, and all you desperately want to do is go to bed.
The One-Sided Honeymoon. We’re excited to see you. We’ve waited at the airport, we’ve removed two years of accumulated debris from the spare room, (or ousted children from theirs) and we have helpfully taken then first four days of your visit off to spend time with you and show you a most excellent time. What we didn’t allow for, however, was jet lag, which means that even the most robust of visitors will fall asleep just as you arrive at the rim of the Grand Canyon / the Golden Gate Bridge emerges from the fog / the lion prowls regally across the road in from of your Jeep.
We have a million and one fabulous places to eat and explore, while you struggle with a body clock still working on Greenwich Mean Time and an overwhelming urge to eat, sleep or use the bathroom at the most inopportune moments. Usually at 2am, or at the top of the Eiffel Tower..
It’s Your Turn Now. By about day five, you’ve resolved the biological issues, got your bearings, and are ready for some serious fun. Predictably, we are now back at work / confronting the mountain of housework and bills that we have ignored for a week / at the mercy of the kids’ punishing school – sport – academic registration schedule. Our hosting talents have been reduced to throwing you out of a moving vehicle at the local bus/train/subway station with a map of the local area, a prepaid cell phone and a bottle of sunscreen. On your triumphant return from whichever attraction you visited, instead of a nourishing home cooked meal, we will ferry you down to Panda Express to eat (neon) Orange Chicken under fake chinese lanterns..
The Impending Departure. Having vainly attempted to juggle the conflicting needs of hosting visitors, running a household and maintaining sanity, we run smack into the realization that you will be leaving in two days. TWO DAYS!! For a while there, we had forgotten that we no longer live two miles apart and get to see each other all the time. The reality presses the Panic Stations button, and suddenly, we are desperate to spend every waking minute with you, knowing that the instant you get on the flight we will remember all the other fabulous things we wanted to share with you.
It’s also the time when you are desperate to be left alone to figure out how to get 50lbs of luggage into a hard sided carry-on case, and to find the keys to the car that’s been parked in the airport parking for two weeks.
The Aftermath. For you, it’s arriving home to a mountain of junk mail, the moldy contents of the refrigerator and a thousand and one tasks that have now become overdue. For expats, it’s silence. The journey home is softened by the sudden seating space in the car, but the minute we open the front door, we remember a funny story that we wanted to tell you, a special place that we wanted to share, a meal that we wanted to cook for you. The decision to move away was ours, but don’t for a minute think that we don’t miss you.
We do, in little ways, every day.