There’s a difference between receiving visitors when you’re an expat and receiving visitors when you’re in your native home. Expats love visitors. They go beyond the usual hospitable motions when they have visitors. It’s a big deal to us. It might be in the struggle of experiencing unfamiliarity ourselves or being humbled by someone spending thousands of dollars to see you, but visitors are awesome.
The Buzz Around Visitors
When loved ones visit us in The Netherlands, it’s an event. We roll out the red carpet, give them the best couch accommodations in all the land, dine them in our favorite restaurants, and try to give them a taste of local living outside the tourist experience.
Expat friends do the same. We all want visitors to feel welcomed and comfortable. The gesture sends multiple messages: “See, we’re doing just fine here.” “It’s not that different from living in the US.” “Look how adaptable we are.” “Wouldn’t you want to live here too?” And so on.
Due to the scarcity of visitors, we don’t just limit our hospitality to close friends and family. If your brother’s best friend’s mother is visiting The Netherlands, we’ll be psyched just to have dinner with her. Does she need a place to crash? Ok, I have a lovely Ikea fold out with a memory foam mattress topper with breakfast in the morning – bring it!
Expats Want to be Visited
I don’t think I would ever be this accommodating to strangers in the US. I haven’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it’s just that I know how weird it feels to be somewhere you’ve never been before, and a little hospitality goes a long way. A friendly face, and conversation in English, a tour of the city without maps and tour guides… it all makes a difference.
And when our expat friends have visitors, it’s time to gather. Barbecue’s, dinner’s, brunch… it’s an event. I want to see a new face and hear their story.
A friend from California spent the weekend with us on the tail end of her European vacation. We toured her around and introduced her. My expat friends wanted to meet her. We ended up going to festivals with the group and pubs in the evenings. Visitors are special, and expats feel the same way about them. They’re a little piece of home in The Netherlands.
Stuck Up in The States
Back in the states, if my friends had visitors then, sure, I would be open to meeting them… if schedules lined up right. Perhaps, if I knew a lot about them then I would make the effort. But, if they were random then I wouldn’t care. I have my own stuff to take care of. I’m not throwing parties or offering a guest bedroom to a stranger. That’s just silly and unsafe.
As far as I know, they’re from somewhere else, so we couldn’t possibly have anything in common. I know, how sad is that? Is that the most ignorant line you’ve read all day? I was, and to a degree still am, very self-absorbed into my life.
Learning Compassion from Having Nothing
In the US, life was simpler and straight forward. I didn’t have to fight for what I wanted, not like I did when we moved and stripped ourselves of all money, possessions, and support. Moving taught me that worthwhile achievements take effort. Working for something broke me down, and now I value the struggle. Sometimes I wish certain things were easy. When you’re starting over and are at the mercy of a kind gesture, a lucky break, and good old-fashioned grit, you tend to find ways to pay it forward in the end. So, compassion builds.
Unfamiliarity is daunting and exhilarating at the same time. Expats try to remove the fear of travel to open guests to new experiences. We strive to bring them into our mindset. Just like change, travel is sometimes scary but it builds character. After a few tough lessons in dealing with change, you discover the plasticity of your fortitude (which sounds like opposing terms, but it’s not) and you keep going.
Keep the Hard Work to Yourself
Lessons are good, but you don’t want guests to deal with the drama of travel and change. You want guests to go home with fond memories of their time abroad. All expats want the same for their guests. So, we collude to help each visitor feel loved and welcomed.
Humbled by Visitors
We take the gesture personally. Not everyone is willing to drop a wad of cash to spend time with us (even though Europe is a pretty sweet incentive). It’s a big deal, and some will never be able to afford such a luxury. So, we’re dead set on making it worth your while. The act of visiting is a gift in-of-itself to us.
Expats love guests. Plain and simple. I can’t speak for everyone, but there is something different about being abroad versus being in your home country when you have visitors. There’s something personal when distant relations come to see you. It’s sincere; heartwarming. Sure, we offer free lodging in an otherwise expensive journey, but that’s something we all conscious of. It’s cool. We still appreciate it regardless. We’re just happy you’re here.