Monday, 11 September 2017

Pick Us Up at the Airport

Anyone who's made the move, taken the plunge, bitten the bullet and moved abroad will identify with this post. We have a couple of new friends who've proven the point (to their annoyance and cost) since moving out here just this year.

I'm talking about how you soon risk the danger of becoming a cheap hotel for all the people you knew from a distance when you lived back in the country of your birth. In our case I can well illustrate the point. Back in the UK we used to attend the occasional convention, party, gathering, whatever - you know the score, where we'd bump into people we really only knew from those occasions. They were the ones you'd stop and say hello to for the briefest of moments, before the both of you ran out of things to say and you'd pretend to spot someone else and move on (Check this out!). They weren't necessarily bores or unpleasant people, they were just folk you only knew from a distance, right?

So, we arrived out here in August of 2005 and not a month had passed before someone we'd only known in this way rang us up from the UK. For the sake of this tale, I'll call him Peter Parker (name changed, to protect the guilty). How he even got hold of our Greek number is a mystery I never got to the bottom of. No doubt he asked someone who knew someone who knew someone close to us or something. Anyway, I answered the phone one day and this voice says:

"Hi John, how you doing? Peter here. Parker, you remember. Just curious to see how it was going. Keeping in touch, that sort of thing."

Oddly, when we'd lived in the UK, we'd bumped into good old Peter once or twice a year at a gathering of friends and acquaintances and never exchanged more than an  "All right? How are you? OK? Good. ...Bye then!"

To the best of my memory we'd never been to his house and he'd never been to ours. From memory he was a pleasant enough bloke, but that's not the argument here. How strange that once we'd moved to a Greek island he felt this need to keep in touch. Why do I have this nagging feeling that, were I to have said, "You must come over and visit some time," He'd have been booking his flights before you can say unwelcome visitors. He called us once a month or so for well over a year, all the time the 'elephant in the room' of our conversation was the invitation to come visit that I never extended to him.

It doesn't always have to be these people who one only knew from a distance. Sometimes it can be family who don't quite know where to draw the line. When this is the case it's much more tricky to deal with the situation without starting family rifts and feuds. Why is it that so many people are insensitive enough not to know the difference between an invitation and inviting themselves? There are so many nuances to this. If your cousin rings you up and says, "We're coming over to see you. We've booked for such-and-such a date. Think you'll be able to pick us up from the airport?" You probably just grin and bear it and hope that it'll go well.

Off you go to the airport at the given date and time, they stay for a fortnight, having come laden wth gifts both of a practical and a luxury nature (I'm rather partial to an old Ely Malt myself, ...only saying), they can't do enough for you when it comes to sharing the kitchen arrangements, like preparing food and washing up, they dig out your vacuum cleaner (and actually use it!) and hang out the washing, demonstrating every moment how much they appreciate your hospitality. Maybe they take you out for a meal once or twice too. When the time comes to run them back to the airport, although you probably heave a big sigh of relief, you decide nevertheless that they were very good guests and you wouldn't mind them coming again some time. That's 'some time', of course, not a few weeks later when they call to say that they enjoyed their stay so much that they've decided to come again this season.

Of course, all too often they turn out to be the ones who most definitely want to stay in a cheap hotel, leaving you and yours to run around waiting on them hand-foot-and-finger. They lounge around under the parasol outside, buried in their latest novel, with a gin and tonic at hand while you wash up the dinner things for the sixth time. They leave various stuff (cameras, phones, snorkels, items of clothing, glasses...) lying around on every horizontal surface and tread sand into your bedroom without noticing. They flop down with sweaty, sun-creamed backs on your nice indoor sofa after a sunbathing session, without a thought for how hard you're going to have to work once they've gone to get the stains out of your cushions. How were these people brought up?

When they're close relatives in gets very tricky indeed. How do you raise the subject of wanting just a little assistance with making a salad, maybe buying a few groceries, washing the dishes, when they don't lift a finger?

Of course, when people come to stay they also often don't get it that you're not on holiday. You have to get your car serviced, maybe you have a job to go to, you have household chores and perhaps gardening to do. You have bills to pay and people to see. In short, wall-to-wall sunshine aside, you have a normal life to live with all that that entails.

Flippin' heck but you need your own privacy now and again too.

Many years ago, my aunt lived in Florida. Having lived in the USA since just after the war, my mum's sister and her husband moved down there from Pennsylvania when they retired. They bought a nice villa with orange trees in the garden and began living (hopefully) the good life in their final years. Within a very short time they were entertaining a succession of relatives from the UK who suddenly wanted to get back in touch. Some of my family began pressuring us to go. We frankly weren't all that keen, but under pressure from one or two who'd been and had a great time (no accusations intended, they meant well, of course), we were persuaded to write a letter to Aunty Nin and uncle Derek with a view to going over there for a visit. I hadn't seen this particular aunt in several decades and didn't know my uncle (by marriage, of course) at all well. I felt uneasy about the whole thing, but off went the letter.

Some weeks later we received a letter with a Tampa, Florida postmark. I opened it gingerly and read what my aunt had written. The letter was two or three pages long, but the only words I still recall vividly were the three words with which she signed it off. After an obvious attempt not to upset us, she wrote:

"Please, don't come."

Thus I learned many years before moving to Greece a vital lesson. If you have friends or relatives living abroad, why not wait until they invite you before thinking about a visit? That way you can be sure you'll be welcome and not merely tolerated. It was nothing personal that led my aunt to write that difficult letter. It was merely the desire to have her own home back. People moving abroad don't erect a sign outside their home saying "Bed, breakfast and evening meal", so why should we imagine that they have done so?

If and when you do go, be sure to show your appreciation for the hospitality in as many ways as you can. Staying with friends or relatives abroad doesn't turn them, for example, into a free taxi service for the duration of your stay. 

When our place was being built, our friends and future landlords asked us if we'd like two bedrooms, or maybe just the one. Within the house's footprint, walls could be placed in any number of configurations. We opted for just one. This was primarily so that if we wanted to entertain friends or family, we'd be happy to move ourselves on to the sofa-bed in the lounge and give up our bedroom. If our guests were important enough to us, that would be no problem, despite minor inconveniences. If folk invited themselves, we could honestly tell them that we didn't have the space. Also, we felt that there was little point in having a room that we'd need to furnish for maybe just a few weeks' use per year.

I'm delighted to report too that, in our case, we've had some very close friends and even relatives come visit over the years that we've lived here who've simply booked a package to stay in our vicinity out of desire not to impose too much. Some of those were people we'd have been very happy to entertain here under our modest roof. They, though, demonstrated their appreciation for our situation by giving us space and both we and them enjoyed their stay, whilst also all enjoying the right measure of privacy.

There you go folks. I'm sure that there will be some who read this who perhaps never saw it from this angle. Glad to be of service.

Finally, on a lighter note, yesterday on my Bay-to-Bay excursion this chap definitely got into the spirit of the day with very little delay...


  1. Know just what you mean, living near Bath we've had a few phone calls but now WE decide who we invite to come!

  2. Hi John, great post. I bumped into you once at the ATM by the garage at Lardos a couple of years back - ok if 6 of us come over August 1-31 next year? Oh, and could you pick us up from the airport?

    1. Dammit Paul, double-booked those dates I'm afraid...