If there is one weird topic that only expats can understand, it’s the mixed feelings you get when you have visitors.
Depending on where you expatriate, you will get more or less attraction of people to come and visit. We were doing pretty ok when we left. A vast majority of people hated the idea of traveling in the Middle East and told us about it. “I’m not racist BUT…” I read somewhere that nothing that comes before the but counts, sorry. They had no clue where Abu Dhabi was in Saudi Arabia – is there another country over there? – Then I started to post about the UAE and the long gloomy Belgian winter made some change their minds. No more remarks on human rights or Sharia law, but lots of questions about the weather and the pool. Suddenly you have many “friends”, or aquintances or just people with whom you shared a dance class when you were 7, willing to visit you and staying at your house, because, you know, it’s easier to catch up… and cheaper but that’s not playing a part at all. Funny enough, when you are back in your country, none of them will lodge you, drive you around, or even see you. I guess it’s one of the expat privileges, we are rich, we can rent a car and a home. Bullshit.
Even if it’s your close family, the same problems appear for each visit: they are on vacation while you are NOT. But they don’t think about it, well at least not for the spouse. They’ll understand THE diplomat is busy, but the wife… she is free to play driver and tour guide, right? She has nothing else to do anyway! Gosh, she must be bored all the time when we aren’t visiting! Oh, and we don’t speak English so she’ll have to translate for us. And while you’re speaking English with the cashier, you can also pay our entry tickets or the restaurant bill.
Don’t get me wrong I love to show my city to the people I like. Hence, I’ve visited 9 times the Grand mosque last year, I kind of don’t marvel at it anymore, it’s better to do it on your own and at your own pace (36 pictures every 10 meters) and without me. Pakistani taxi drivers are amazing, they are like you, they don’t speak English, even with your strongest French accent, tell them “MOSQUÉE” and they’ll drive you there. Coming back? I’ll pick you up… tonight.
Because they know you live there, they feel dispensed of reading any info on the country before coming. No need for a lonely planet guide (save 15$), Cécile will explain everything to us. So you get all the same stupid questions, to which I would love to answer by my favorite Sentence these days “I’m not google”. But you feel like you have to make them love your new country so… you help!
Yes, it’s safe.
Yes, the mosque is free. (Not that you’re cheap to ask)
Yes, you have to cover.
Yes, they will lend you an abaya.
Yes, for free (you start to look kind of cheap)
No, it won’t be pretty.
Yes, there is a Cinnabon at the entrance. – Oh no wait, that last one was from my husband so it doesn’t count. –
You feel super stressed out. You have to make a planning for them , what to visit and where to eat! You ask them “what do you like?” “Oh whatever you want…” NO, don’t say that! Just say that you don’t like Lebanese cuisine or I’ll fill you up with hummus. Say that you prefer Ferrari world to visiting the Louvre Abu Dhabi. I don’t know you, remember, we only shared a few dancing classes when we were 7.
They come here without any idea of the time difference, the culture, the electrical plugs. Because we are european they think we live in a european household, on Brussel timeline and weekend, with Belgian plugs (won’t buy an adaptor, save 7$) and a fritkot down the street probably. We can’t fix everything but we cut ourselves in half to make them happy. Traveling is adapting and I’m very sorry if the Fanta doesn’t taste the same here, I’ll see what I can do.
The thing is when you expatriate, some people who would have never travelled this “far”, will visit you. They will do it for you, or at least they’ll tell themselves that, but sort of against themselves. It’s an amazing step to take for someone but they will be heavy work for you (remember nothing before the BUT counts).
Why do we want them to love the place we live in and don’t accept any critic? I mean I love my new country, why do I need them to love it too? I could let them comment but something in me (and outside) fights every single remark! I turn out pretty aggressive even went I hear remarks. I don’t get really why, probably because this country is a part of me now and because them commenting without knowing is irritating.
And here starts the big fight. You, expat, say something bad about your home country, they, visitors, take it against them and reply by a nasty comment on your new country which makes you angry… why should this be a fight? Why can’t we both acknowledge the weaknesses and strengths of our countries? Probably because some family members hate your new country which has “taking you away”. And you left for a reason, so you try to make your point. Those viewpoints are nearly impossible to match, try to speak about something else. Like the Iran conflict. Bad example they have no clue what it is, let’s talk about the new concert hall back home and what type of beer you can get there… there, that’s better.
For blogging purposes, I’m exaggerating here! Don’t take it on you if you’ve visited us, we loved it. I’m synthesizing experiences from all my expat friends here. Between the wife stuck with the in-laws for 3 weeks with the husband working hard (him,…) and on an unexpected abroad business trip (it’s ok, HE is busy, they get it), and the last-minute ex colleagues in transit in Dubai airport willing to be picked up (how did you get my number?). The best neighbor Story I’ve heard yet is People flying in Dubai to come in Abu Dhabi because it’s cheaper, but YOU have to go pick them up in Dubai and drive back to your house. Yeah, I get it, I’ll fly back to Amsterdam instead of Brussels next time and you can come pick me up there. No worries.
With my expat friends, neighbors, when we look at the agenda to plan something there is always this sentence “that weekend, we have visitors”. The tune of this is always dual, part excitement, part of boredom. We get it, no need to explain.
You should see the posts on this Facebook group over restaurants in Abu Dhabi. Dozens of posts say something like “My parents are in town next week and I’m looking for a brunch but not too lavish Emirati style, do you know any?” Like you are gonna take your parents to a low class brunch and make it look like it’s your week end tradition here? Although you are used to go to the Emirates palace brunch every Friday and drink champagne in golden flutes. We get you man, it’s hard to assume your posh side, they might think you’re a crazy expat now. Oh wait, they already do, and you kind of are!
I won’t complain, we had some lovely visitors, baring the products you miss the most from Belgium, caring for you and your kids, preparing you diner, inviting you to restaurant, making their way through the city themselves,… those are the ones who will be able to visit next posting!
Then there are the people I really wanted to visit but never came. The money, the time, the husband, the step-wife, the health, many excuses that I understand but still it’s painful not to have them here and show them our new life. Someday, maybe. And by then, I’ll have the perfect itinerary for them!