Friends or family announce a planned holiday at your place, and your feelings seesaw back and forth between elation and sheer horror.
Are you familiar with the cautionary proverb about fish and visitors? You should, as should your visitors.
Regardless of whether you are a present or former expatriate, have family abroad, have studied in another country or have struck up a conversation with your seat neighbour in the plane with great ease; one way or another, people will visit you.
They somehow know that you have a guestroom, preferably with en-suite facilities. They assume you have household help, a cook and a driver. Some visitors even presume you have no life of your own and believe to be doing you a favour by staying over. Or should I say, overstaying?
Etiquette gurus unanimously state that good house guests should know to restrict their stay to three nights and four days maximum. But we know wishful thinking when we see it. Your in-laws travel halfway around the globe to stay under a week? Dream on!
The Internet is full of well-intentioned advice on how to avoid a visit turning into a horror trip. Lay ground rules upon your visitors’ arrival, they say. Or better yet, specify them in an email before the travel date. Good advice surely, but never have I ever had the nerve to hand out such a write-up.
Set up a kitty for everyone to contribute to food, drinks and petrol expenses. Of course, I should, but then again, never have I ever...
Take turns with cooking, washing up and cleaning. That one, I might actually imagine happening. But my slight OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) will have me chewing my nails as soon as dishes aren’t put away correctly, cleaning rags not folded the way I like and my precious exotic spices imported at great expense are sprinkled liberally all over the kitchen counter.
I’d rather do it all by myself and secretly resent my visitors for being so inconsiderate.
Oh-so-gracious and graceful hosts will advise you to put out brochures for your guests to plan some outings. Preferably on their own. I have seen every mosque, every mall and every museum! Ten times over, thank you very much!
Alas, some guests, mostly the overstaying kind, really can’t take a hint. An anticipation-laden “So, what have you planned for us to do tomorrow, dear?” innocently uttered after a late-night snack will have me running for the hills, if only in my head.
All these issues pale in comparison to the one, the big, the dreaded and dreadful issue of your visitors’ misbehaving children. How do you address the fact that your friends’ kids put their dirty feet up on your sofa, don’t finish their food, scream and shout and pull your old dog’s tail? How do you keep quiet about all this tomfoolery without losing your children’s respect? How do you reprimand these little terrors without jeopardising your friendship with their parents?
The “perfect house and home” bloggers and online forum acrobats are right, of course. When visitors arrive, we need to sit down and have “the talk”. But it makes me feel so awkward. And on the first day of their stay, I genuinely like my friends and family and I enjoy having them over.
With every visiting party, I hope for small miracles, for independent travellers, for well-behaved children and for a reasonably short stay, too. On the fifth day though, I inevitably retreat to my bathroom for lengthy periods, where I practise that ground rules talk — the one I will never ever deliver — in front of my mirror.
I know I’m a bit of a control freak, I know I’m a bit of an introvert at times, and yes, I know I’m petty. But above all, I know that fish and visitors stink after three days.
Enjoy the holiday season everyone, and go visit some relatives. Do it before they get the chance to come to you.
The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer of the human condition and unapologetically insubordinate
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times