Tag Archives: leisure

Why expats make terrible hosts. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful relocation

Never can say goodbye..Why expats make terrible hosts.

Why expats make terrible hosts. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful relocationIt’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.


Friends Beyond Borders

It is hard to move from one city to another, even harder to move to a different country. One of the positive things about this though, is that you tend to make friends wherever you go. Of course, it’s painfully hard to leave them behind when you move again. However, it’s easier these days to keep in touch thanks to the internet.

A good place to make new friends, if you are a trailing spouse with kids, is at your children’s school(s). One of the things I love most about my kids’ School is that it is international; the students hail from all around the globe and back! There are 70+ nationalities (and increasing) represented in my children’s current school. Just walking around in this cosmopolitan environment is like getting a lesson in history, geography and culture.

When I was new in town and trying to get to know people, I made a point of introducing myself to other parents waiting around at pick-up time at school and at various school events. Now, many of my friends are moms and dads at my kids’ school. Of course, like their children, they too come from all over the world.

Today, I decided to sit down and list which countries my friends hail from. Here’s what I came up with (in alphabetical order, and not necessarily in the order of closeness, especially as Wales is at the bottom ;))

Where do your friends come from? How many ‘countries’ have you befriended? And, yes, play fair. I said friends, not acquaintances 🙂

Australia                                   Bangladesh                                    Belgium

Brazil                                        Bulgaria                                        Canada

China                                        Denmark                                       England

Ethiopia                                     Finland                                         Gambia

Germany                                    Greece                                         India

Italy                                          Japan                                           Kenya

Kyrgyzstan                                 Lebanon                                        Lithuania

Nepal                                        Netherlands                                    Pakistan

Philippines                                  Singapore                                      Somalia

South Africa                               Spain                                            Swaziland

Sweden                                      Switzerland                                   Thailand

USA                                           Wales

And as promised, here’s the link to some maps to print off and color in – feel free to take a photo of your to post to our Facebook page!

Printable World Map

Fair Play - Rules of Behavior with New Arrivals and Expats. Part of the Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation Series

Fair Play – Rules of Behavior with New Arrivals and Expats.


Fair Play - Rules of Behavior with New Arrivals and Expats. Part of the Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation Series

My sister was recently invited to attend a local badminton club, and to cut a long story short, she wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Thankfully, she is made of pretty stern stuff and like a phoenix from the ashes, rose above adversity to bring us the 8 Noble Truths of playing nice with local newcomers and expats alike..

1. Behave like an adult.

What is it about someone new in the group that makes everyone regress to high school? Seriously, we have all seen new people before, and we promise not to steal your boyfriend, copy your homework or start rumors about you. We may have different clothes, hair, skin or accents, but we are here because we believe that individuality should be celebrated, not castigated. So if you could just treat us like an intelligent, normal human being rather than an alien with three heads, that would be marvelous.

2. Don’t make us look foolish, just because you can.

We are your guests, and are on our best behavior. This makes us easy targets for ridicule, but aggressively smashing feathered objects back across the net to try and intimidate us says far more about you than us.

3. Tell us the rules before you start.

We are new to this, so if you have particular codes of conduct that you would like us to adhere to, we are happy to be told. If your way of deciding who is going to serve first is to tap the shuttlecock in the air and see who it points to when it lands, we can accept that. But if you don’t tell us, and we leap athletically into action to return your ‘serve’, don’t tut, roll your eyes and stomp off. We’re not mind readers, and we’re just trying to play the game, for pity’s sake.

4. Forgive us our trespasses.

The trouble with unspoken rules is that they are, well, unspoken.We are going to make mistakes and step on your toes. So if you have strong feelings about which part of the court is yours, let us know. And use words, please, rather than swiping at us with your racquet.

5. If you invite us to join, include us.

When you put up posters advertising for new club members, implicit in that notice is a certain inclusivity. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with that word, it means that the odd kind word is not only appreciated, it’s pretty much expected. If that’s too much effort for you, don’t put up the damn posters and waste both of our time..

6. Play fair.

We’ve been around the block, and so we know when you are just inventing new rules to make us look bad. We are trying to please, we are turning ourselves inside out to conform, but the fact that we are new doesn’t give you the right to take advantage. So please don’t leave us to pack up the equipment alone while you all head off to the pub.

7. We’re here because we want to meet you.

We may seem standoffish or awkward or unimpressed, but it’s because we feel uncomfortable. However it may seem, we really do want you to talk to us, and any overtures of friendship are greatly appreciated. So please don’t all huddle together in the corner like you’re being invaded – if you think you feel uncomfortable with someone new, imagine how we feel when everyone is new.

8. A smile is all it takes.

We don’t need intellectual dialogue, detailed resumes or witty repartee to make us feel included – simply acknowledging our existence with a smile or a hello is enough. So next time you see someone new walk in the room, make eye contact and smile. It costs you nothing, but to us, it’s priceless.


Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Lessons for Life from the Soccer Field

We’re nearly at the end of soccer season here: Saturdays spent camped on folding chairs, as twenty-two 10, 11 and 12 year olds race frantically for hours in pursuit of an inflated leather object. This passion will no doubt continue throughout their lives, but will soon be referred to as shoe shopping.

The first team Martha played for was in Torrance, Los Angeles; home of the Olympic gold medallist Shannon Box. The location was the only thing Martha’s team had in common with any sort of soccer excellence, mainly because of their age, and the all-inclusive philosophy of the organization, and the inhibiting nature of the uniforms. What it lacked in skill, however, it made up in entertainment value, not least watching the agonies of the volunteer parent coaches as all the skills that had been carefully rehearsed in practice disappear like mist once they hit the pitch.

The selection process was less than rigorous; players on each team were allocated at random, issued with a uniform and two unsuspecting parent coaches, and allowed to choose their own names. Martha’s team made the interesting choice of “The Pink Unicorns” in honor of their blush pink strip. They had an equally non-threatening banner, a Pink Unicorn jumping over a rainbow, and all the girls wore matching pink ribbon pom-pom hair elastics. In eight year old girl terms, they had already won the jackpot, and any further glory on the field would just be greedy. This was reflected in their play; although they played very well as a team, they proved completely incapable of the killer instinct that got the ball into the back of the net. The level of skill it took to miss quite that many shots was staggering, and had the coaches in near hysteria. Meanwhile, at the other end of the field, our numbers were being quietly decimated. Every time the opposing team managed to score, the goalie would sink to the floor in a flood of tears, and have to be led sobbing from the field. They would then be replaced with another team member, only for the whole process to be repeated over, and over again.

Here in San Francisco, things have moved up a notch. Martha is now three years older, and team soccer skills have moved beyond the “swarm’; 14 girls standing in a circle around the ball attempting to kick it until someone actually makes contact, then running en masse after it to repeat the whole process over again. Now there is evidence of some really good play. The people who run the youth soccer association are pretty savvy; they keep track of who are the stars from previous years and make sure they are divided up between the new teams. There is less sobbing, the teams all play in proper formations, and the girls have finally grown into the strip that is bought in one size, whether you are a first or and eighth grader.

But one thing has come to light – the refereeing. The right of the viewing public to criticize the referee’s decision on any and all calls is developing nicely. The LMYA motto “They play, We coach, You cheer” is frequently tested, with a highlight of any game being a parent or coach sending off.

To be fair, the refs have an unenviable task. Keeping the games running injury free and on time are difficult enough. They start every game by asserting their focus on safety, which involves the tapping of shin pads, the tucking in of shirts, and the removal of jewelry, which with 24 lavishly adorned  girls on the teams can take a considerable time and rechecks. Injuries are minor, but are greeted by a swarm of concerned players around the victim, copious heartfelt apologies, and the ball left completely unattended in a far corner of the pitch, regardless of whether the whistle has blown. Last week the ref was forced to take a time out to explain that “unless my whistle blows, you keep playing”, when play had indeed stopped, for no discernible reason.

But their decisions reflect the age and skill level of the players, and as such, are infuriating to some of the more ambitious parents. The offside rule is a open for interpretation, the edges of the field are sometimes a little wobbly, and I have yet to see a FIFA world cup game where the ref allowed a second try at a throw in. But it’ s the spirit of the decisions that I love, with the referees applying the philosophy of “what would the Dalai Lama do?” to every call. The sight of the game being stopped for a quick instructional on just how to keep your feet on the floor for the throw in gladdens my heart. It may mean that the scoreboard can be called into question, and that those parents wanting to take it seriously are left frustrated. But the calls keep the play moving, the players motivated, and give a little leeway when the less confident players finally get their foot to the ball.  It’s their lesson for life; it’s not the winning or the losing that counts, it’s how they play they game. And for now, they have it right – it’s all much more fun when we get to play it together.