Given enough time, a feast or famine pattern will develop in an expat’s life.
For instance, while outside of the U.S. I dream about my favorite sushi restaurant. And without fail, as soon as I set foot on San Diego soil I promptly gorge myself on enough spicy tuna rolls and ahi poke to get at least a mild level of mercury poisoning. Maybe you can’t keep out of Target or miss your favorite TV show or love to drive on big, open highways where people use signals and respect lanes. Whatever it is, as soon as it’s available you try to soak up as much as possible.
With the holidays upon us, chances are you’ll be soaking up a lot of family moments too. But how is it that you long for your parents and siblings and Grannie Fran all year long, only to feel like you’re going crazy after two days? No matter how much you love someone, I think it’s pretty likely that if you spend a couple of weeks with them you’re bound to have at least a tickle of the grumps.
While out there combing through the copious articles, blogs, and advice about extended family visits, I found some very good suggestions about how to make sure you maximize your family ‘feasting’ this holiday season.
The advice boiled down to this: the best way to navigate potential bumps in the road is with a mix of straightforwardness, tact, and healthy selfishness. I like this. It’s concise and seems doable. And c’mon, I’m all for that third part.
But first, let’s have a mutual understanding that what I’m offering here is a few tidbits of my own unprofessional advice about stuff that isn’t that serious. I’m talking about the run-of-the-mill annoyances like being spoken to before your cup of coffee or holding in your eye-rolls at political opinions. If your family dynamics skew more towards House Lannister (ok, a bit dramatic but you get my drift) then you should come back next post when I talk about winter-time travel in Europe. This advice isn’t for you.
Be straightforward with expectations.
I’ve discussed setting expectations when talking about hosting guests in general, but it deserves a second mention. In fact, expectations may be my expat soapbox because they’re so important! Much of how we perceive an experience is formed by what we are expecting. For loved ones crossing multiple time-zones to spend a few weeks in place they’ve never been before, this starts long before the bags are packed.
Hopefully, since you’ve been in your new ‘home’ you’ve been talking to your family about what your life is like. When you’re preparing them, don’t take little things for granted! People like to know how to dress, what you eat, what your house is like and where they’ll be staying.
And definitely talk about your daily routine. If your family is staying for a few weeks, it’s likely one (or both) of you will have to work a bit. Talk about your schedule and help make plans so everyone is comfortable if you have to be away a few hours a day.
Start flexing your tact muscle.
Tact and empathy will get you far in life. However, because we live in a me-focused society they generally aren’t a typical first response to most frustrating moments. They’re important because so many of those trifling irritations—which are bound to happen while spending a few weeks together—can be mitigated if only we put the shoe on the other foot. And just because these particular reactions aren’t naturally occurring doesn’t mean they can’t be developed.
I’ve been practicing zipping my lips a lot lately because of the recent election, but there are so many other topics that can immediately press our buttons. You know your family and what you can talk about without it getting out of hand. Letting a conversation pass without stating your opinion or pointing out where others are wrong doesn’t mean your beliefs are weakening. It just means you’ll have a smoother time together.
Plan for some healthy selfishness.
It’s a joke among our family that I become a different person when I’m tired. And as an introvert, social situations wear me out especially fast. I was always afraid of having long term visitors because I thought I had to be ‘on’ all the time. But, people don’t need to be entertained 24/7. In fact, most people like a bit of time to themselves each day. Once I figured out that it was ok to take social breaks, having family come stay for a couple of weeks was much, much easier.
I think I’ve mentioned before that when my in-laws visit my mother-in-law will ‘send me to my room.’ This isn’t snide at all. Rather, it’s our jokey way of giving me permission to go recharge for a bit. I realize that not everyone can joke with their in-laws like this, so you could simply go to bed a bit early, take the dog for a walk or your kids to the park.
Maybe you need a date night or your morning run or a good night’s sleep. Whatever it is, figure out what this kind of self-care looks like for you and make it happen.
In some ways it’s easier to receive visitors—you have the comfort of your own home and routine to help you stay grounded. If you’re going back to your native home for an extended period, there are a lot of other factors to consider (check out this post about reverse culture shock or these tips about your first trip back). Whatever you happen to be doing this holiday season, I hope you enjoy yourselves!
If you have something to add, share it in the comments below! Chances are there’s an expat reading who’d love to hear what has worked for you.