As I have mentioned before, my husband is a professional hockey player, now playing here in Switzerland. We spend nine exciting months of each year in Europe, then three whirlwind months in Canada. As much as we adore our time overseas, it always requires some adjustment, spending holidays with people we’ve just met; new teammates and friends who become temporary family during special occasions. We also have had to learn to face life’s many ups and downs over Skype with mom, texts with friends, and via outlets like this blog. As an expat living in Germany and Switzerland however (some of the most popular destination countries in Europe), my husband and I have also been very fortunate to host many of our family and friends in our various overseas homes.
We have hosted friends looking to discover the European nightlife, parents coming to make sure we have a proper Christmas, cousins coming to celebrate New Years Eve on the slopes, and friends of friends backpacking through. Each visitor has been very different and each visit has been uniquely memorable.
Hosting family over Christmas is certainly my favorite type of visit. Our parents just love coming here, taking over our kitchen, making sure that we have a real Canadian turkey dinner with the cranberry sauce and eggnog mix from home. Of course I love it too!
But the visitors I get the most excited for are those who have never before been to Europe. There is no better way to appreciate how lucky we are for being able to live here than to see the faces of those experiencing our European home for the first time. In addition to grand cathedrals, old bridges, and breathtaking landscapes, I have seen eyes of amazement over such things as toilet flushers, pop can designs, window shutters, and of course ausfahrt parkade signs. After five years here I often forget how incredible it felt to first discover such intriguing little things. Through visitors I am reminded how overwhelming it is to experiencing seeing the Alps for the first time and breathing in the mountain air, or how joyous it feels to first wander about a Christmas market, tasting Gluhwein, and smelling the candied almonds.
With all of the marveling however, for first-time visitors there can also be some challenges. Culture shock, jet lag, foreign languages, and new foods, can all make stepping out of one’s comfort zone and into a new country quite intimidating. I have to often keep in mind that not everyone is going to appreciate the smell of fondue cheese, or that not everyone comes to Switzerland to hike up mountains. It is important to remember that different people have different expectations, interests, and comfort limits when traveling. Some guests may be adventurous, excited to figure out the trains, take off on their own, seeing all they can see and doing all they can do. Others may need guidance. With most guests I play tour guide, coming up with daily outings, showing off my favorite spots, and encouraging them to try local foods and activities. Of course, some are more willing than others. It is important to remember that some guests are simply here to visit and just enjoy your company. They may not be interested in, or even comfortable with, navigating busy train stations, taking full-day walking tours, or eating something they can’t pronounce.
Whatever type of guest you may be hosting this holiday season, be sure to keep as open a mind as you expect them to have. Plan a variety of options for daily activities and allow lots of down time for rest and visiting. Also, be sure to stock up on “home” foods so visitors can choose when they feel like eating adventurously and when they feel like relaxing with a peanut butter sandwich.
Take in as much time with your friends and family as possible, as a ten-day visit can go by in a flash. Don’t get caught up in cramming each day with things to do, but instead stop and enjoy the little moments, like chatting face to face with your mother, sharing a brew with your sister, lounging around with your best friend, or sharing a meal with your in-laws. These are the small moments us expats miss the most, and the ones we so often forget to stop and enjoy.