No Tell Motel

03 June 2006

The Cheat's lesson for how to handle guests. No, not dinner guests, the extended kind that seem to sap your every spare moment and drag you to the tourist attractions you've already seen three times...

Isn’t it nice to host overnight visitors from time to time?  Now that we’ve set up here in Spain and are the envy of all our friends back home they all want to come down and get a taste. It has been said many times in these pages that we all need a little touch of home, and having old friends or family volunteer to fly down at zero expense to us seems like a good deal.  Secondary to this of course, is the fact that it panders to our egos.  In between the insecurities we all feel from time to time, coupled with the occasional doubts as to the wisdom of this adventure, we like having those very same old friends and family flock down to gawk at the scenery and praise our clever new way of living.

Since moving to Barcelona, I have had an endless stream of visitors from all sorts of places and points in my past life.  Its curious that getting my own family to come and see me in Amsterdam was like pulling teeth, but lo and behold, move to sunny Spain and you have to beat them off with a chorizo.  All of a sudden, people that were distant friends at best are calling up to remind me of the wild times we purportedly had and how “…wouldn’t it be great to do it all over again in Barcelona?  Say, next month…?  EasyJet has this special offer you see and… can I stay at your place…?”

No problem, we love the attention and it is fun to show the folks around.  But all this back patting, self-congratulatory reassurance and “look at me, look at how I outsmarted the rat race” comes at a terrible price.  You know what I mean, buddy.  I’m talking about playing Tour Guide for your visitors every day, feeding them, pointing out where to go, how to get there, and making sure they don’t get taken for a ride by unscrupulous locals selling “authentic Spanish pizza” for €17.  Man, its all fun and games the first few times, but how many times are you going to pay to climb 245 steps to the top of some cathedral tower to see the same view.  Thinking of declining?  Telling your guests, “no, you guys go on up without me.  I’ll wait in the ambulatory,” results in long faces, and that look that says *we came all this way to see you and you aren’t even interested in showing us around?*  Suddenly we are the selfish ones.  It’s Guilt City and we suck.

I remember this phenomenon in my old expat life too, when my ex-girlfriend (also an expat) started hosting various members of her friends and family on what seemed to be a weekly basis.  I would come home on a Thursday night to discover some young Dane sprawling out the contents of a huge backpack in our living room.  “This is Juli, she’s staying for a week.  And by the way, this Saturday I thought we’d all go Utrecht.”  Say no at your peril, or its hello Guilt City limits.

Perhaps I am digressing a little too deep into my past relationship dynamics, but facts are facts.  Guests are cool as long as you treat them like you’re going to a movie with friends:

  • decide before hand what sort of entertainment is going to suit all
  • make some basic arrangement about when and where
  • and have a suitable exit strategy in place and share it with them.

You know, sort of an off-handed remark you drop after you pick them up at the airport like “Oh by the way, I may need to jet off to my Andalucian Olive Appreciation Club at some point this weekend, we are organizing our big charity.”  They’ll be blown sideways by the deep social tapestry of your life here, and won’t hold it against you when they try to drag you to another bullfighting souvenir shop and you deem it time to split.

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