#160 Hosting Visitors
Visiting your Expat Aid Worker friends while they are “in the field” is a real treat for everyone involved.
EAWs love visitors… except when they find you, Dear Visitor, to be annoying; eg., most of the time.
Below, anonymous SEAWL reader “AB”, offers visitors some key lessons on ways to to irritate EAW hosts:
1) Travel light (eg, don’t bring consumeristic loot to the EAW). Ah, you world travelling, light treaders of the earth (despite the carbon mileage spent on this particular trip). You are all under the impression that you are visiting a do-gooder EAW friend who would by no means be expecting chocolate chips and Ziploc bags. [Wrong. Bring gifts.]
2) Marvel at (eg, “self-righteously judge”) the grandeur and excessiveness of the EAW’s residence. Utter lines like, “Oh, if I lived here, I would never leave!” or “No, no, I just assumed you would be living more, you know, like the locals.”
3) Expect everything to work. After marveling at (judging) the accommodation, you will encounter various (surprising!) daily frustrations — i.e. poor internet speed, frequent power outages, hardware that doesn’t really work, dirt that has clogged the shower head or drain, wardrobes that cause all clothing to wrinkle and mold, mattresses that are dire, windows that don’t quite keep rain or dust out. Rather than loudly verbalize your frustration with some hope that your EAW hosts will actually be able to fix the problem, you’ll want to humbly affirm the perseverance of the EAW hosts who have now managed to live with these frustrations for years, aware that there really is no feasible solution to various things that “don’t work.”
4) Hope to see and understand the whole geography and history of a country in 2-3 weeks. You probably brushed up on your reading before your travels. Perhaps you have seen The Last King of Scotland or you been tracking Kony’s whereabouts online and now feel you possess some type of expertise on “developing world” poverty, culture or politics. Now you want to regale everyone with your in-depth understanding of things to prove you are not a tourist (though you actually are), you feel the urge to explain local culture to the locals who may not fully understand it. You want to collect photos of yourself in places where the Last King or Kony’s army were once seen. Oddly enough, the fact that most EAWs do not know everything about the country they live in (especially the latest hot news about the country as interpreted by CNN and Hollywood) seems to bear no relation to the fact that the you do not follow every environmental/ racial/ economic/ artistic/ educational/ medical situation in your home state.
5) Come to stay for 2-3 weeks. No one visits people for 2-3 weeks at a time back home. But by the time the you count the cost of the tickets and the days of travel, not to mention the jet-lag, all of a sudden your 2-3 week visit seems like the only reasonable choice. You probably believe the EAW is looking forward to hosting you for that whole time. [Wrong.]
6) Exhibit a total lack of capacity to do anything by yourself. Getting a glass of water, flushing a toilet, making a salad, opening a window, washing the dishes, ordering take-out food for dinner to assist your host, etc. are so different here in this foreign place! That’s right. So just sit there for 3 weeks looking bewildered….
7) Marvel at (read: judge) the fact that the EAW has house help assisting in all the chores of life. Say things like, “What I wouldn’t give to have someone help me clean the house and prepare the food!” Here’s something to ponder, oh clueless one: the EAW has all this help because EAWs are constantly spending their time and energy hosting visitors like you because local guest accommodations can’t handle your needs!
8) Become BFF with the EAW’s house help, driver or any other service employee because there is a strong desire to have your own personal account of “changing someone’s life.” Hint: This assistance to the disadvantaged might in fact lead to some confusing dynamics for the host who is in a longer term relationship with the one whose life you just “changed.”
9) Expect that the host can stop all daily routines and roles in order to host you because you have spent a lot of money and taken all your vacation days to be with the EAW.
10) Marvel at (read: judge) this life of leisure the EAW lives — not quite registering that you would be sorely offended if the EAW carried on his or her normal life for 2-3 weeks while you sat around the EAW’s house not able to do anything on your own. Hint: While the EAW is enjoying this “life of leisure” with you, his or her anxiety is mounting due to the long list of things not getting taken care of that will come back ten-fold the day you leave.
11) Hover. Along with this general expectation that your EAW host will devote the day’s activity and attention to you, their visitor, there is a heightened degree of hovering that you are emanating due to not having any of the normal aspects of your life with you to keep yourself busy. Because you are far away from your daily demands, you will end up being even more “eager” and “present” than you would be if visiting someone for three weeks within your own country. Note: this is really annoying.
12) Expect to eat a familiar yet different kind of lunch every day. Breakfast and dinners are manageable but lunch puts the host over the edge. Especially 21 lunches in a row. While presenting something familiar/acceptable for meals is possible twice a day— the middle of the day function is rough.
13) Expect to eat lots of local food. The local food option would be great, especially in reference to the prior point. But some foreign countries are more amenable to this need. If you are satisfied with a very large plate of mashed banana (but not sweet) with somewhat oily meat sauce and indistinguishable pieces of meat and perhaps a chaser of GI bug, then lunch that meets the “local food” expectation would make everyone happy. Unfortunately, however, a sick visitor is even more annoying and time-consuming than a healthy one.
Bonus! The following actions by an EAW working spouse regarding visitors (many of whom need to be hosted as “part of the EAW’s job”) will lead to extremely high levels of annoyance on behalf of the home spouse:
14) Less than a 24 hour notice. This is seriously not okay, considering the amount of chores that might have to be managed (by said house help); laundering sheets and towels, cleaning floors and bathrooms, preparing food (which might involve going to market), rearranging other aspects of the EAW family’s schedule that are not necessarily easily changed, etc.
15) Presumption/ingratitude: An attitude of nonchalance on the part of said spouse who does not bear the 24/7 brunt of managing home life, a reality that is heightened exponentially with visitors.
16) Continuing work as normal. A serious offence. Often the working EAW spouse will act as though there is no big adjustment going on and assume that she or he can just swing in at dinner time (arranged by home spouse), chat away about all the interesting cross-cultural developments in his or her work life and get equal if not more credit from visitors for their noble work and contribution to the world.
Taking the above into consideration when visiting will help EAWs continue to be the generous hosts they appear to be.
EAWs really and truly do love hosting visitors!