March 29, 2010


Someone once told a close friend who was staying with us for an extended period: “honey, houseguests, like fish, smell after 4 days”! Luckily for that particular guest, I was never one to subscribe to this point of view. And it is a good thing, because over the last five years we have had a steady stream of visitors. Our first Shanghai houseguests have arrived, and we have looked forward to the visit for weeks.

In my opinion, one of the best things about living in a different country is that people love to come and visit. Some visitors are on the trip of a lifetime. Others are just passing through for work. Some stay for only a day or two, some stay for a few weeks. We love all types and have been lucky enough to rent houses with sufficient space.

Last weekend, I heard from some friends that they know expatriates who do not like visitors. Perhaps they haven’t had the right kind of guests? Or perhaps their visitors stay for too long? Perhaps they are not willing to play “sherpa”? Guests at our house are usually asked to bring us things we cannot get locally, or else are far too expensive to make it worthwhile. That usually means English language books (heavy), favorite US cereals (bulky), decorations for particular holidays (Easter, Thanksgiving), clothes or shoes in large sizes to accommodate our above average height. I always have a twinge of guilt when our guests arrive and say – see that extra-large suitcase, it’s yours!! However, I know in the back of my mind that they will fill it with souvenirs on the way home and will be glad they had an “empty” bag with them. In addition, they usually see the reaction on the kids’ faces and then they completely understand why we asked them to bring generic supplies like a child’s favorite toothpaste.

Visitors do take some extra planning, but we have always found the benefits outweigh any inconveniences. I tend to save the “touristy” things to do with our visitors. Things we take for granted – the scenic views, particular museums, shopping venues – are suddenly exciting and exotic again when viewed with a newcomer’s perspective. I also look at it as an opportunity to see how well I know my new city. Similar to when we were in school and you felt you really knew a topic when you could explain it to someone else. If I can play “tour guide” or “booking agency” for my guests, than I must know my new city and country quite well.

Guests also bring a touch of the US with them. And I am not just referring to the extra suitcase. It is different hearing about local politics or news first hand vs. just what you read on-line or hear from CNN International. It is also a fun time for the kids to show off their new school, or neighborhood, or friends. I have already seen my son’s spirits perk up by the opportunity to take our visitors on a tour of his school. Instead of comparing to what we left, they explain what is new and different here and what they like the most.

So we will enjoy the time with our guests, it always seems too brief. And we look forward to many more visitors coming in the months and years ahead. It is one of the many joys of living in a foreign land.


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