Advice When Visiting Expats

December 2010 The Expat Telegraph published an article I had written called Thoroughly Modern Expats.

For a number of years following I was a regular monthly columist for them.

Reading through the original articles that I submitted recently, I was taken by a) how relevant many of them still are today, and b) I had no online record of them of my own.

So I have added the original submissions to this blog, so if you want to read more of them just search for telegrapharticles, and while you are at it you may want to search for expatarticles as well to see other columns I wrote in the past for various newspapers in Spain.

I am writing this column once again in a state of slight agitation and, I should confess, with one eye on my pickled onions.

The reason for this state of affairs? A recent visit by friends from the UK bearing a much appreciated gift of a ‘food parcel’ containing a few of my old favourites. As I said, very kind and much appreciated indeed.

Over the years our diet and tastes have become dominated by the foods that we can get locally. When we first moved over to Spain we had very little option as the only way you could get any English Food was when people brought it over, or you went back home. Over the years this has changed of course: all the main Supermarkets carry international produce now, most expat communities either have an English shop or have access to one nearby and at the very worst there is always a ‘White Van & Man’ that does a monthly run bringing back commonly required items and any special requests.

As a rule we avoid these options. Partly because, truth be told, our diet back in the UK wasn’t really a particularly ‘English’ one so there has never really been that much we missed, and partly because being a tight old Yorkshireman I am reluctant to pay the prices that these items tend to demand, made worse when you see the 2 for 1 price on the original package and the € price stamped next to it! The other main reason of course is that when we moved to Spain we wanted to embrace the lifestyle as fully as we could, and given the climate a Sunday Roast with all the Trimmings very rarely appeals.

There is however another reason, and I know it will sound daft, but I enjoy the ‘romance’ of the food parcel. Ever since I watched Colditz and other Prisoner of War films as a child I have always had a romantic notion of the food parcel from home. Read the exceptional Birdsong, or the moving The Last Fighting Tommy, and you can’t help but picture the power of the food parcel: that small but meaningful link to home, a fleeting oasis of comfort in a foreign land.

Now whilst living in Spain has got a lot tougher for many expats over the last couple of years, it is still significantly easier than the trenches of the First World War or the prison camps of the Second World War, but they say that us men are children at heart, and I like to sit down with my food parcel and drift off into another time and place for a few minutes.

All of which brings me to my pickled onions.

Friends arrived with said food parcel containing said jar. For what happened next I can only blame myself because I made the novice expat mistake of opening them. I know I should have known better, and indeed I do, as the first thing I usually do is put then away to be consumed by me and me alone! In a moment of weakness though I opened the pickled onions, although to be fair I did think everyone had gone out as they said they were ‘just popping to the supermarket’, but my mate had stayed behind.

Before I knew it there he was, sat on the balcony eating my pickled onions uttering the words you just don’t want to hear: “these are lovely I eat them all the time in the UK” and “once you start you can’t stop, I once ate a whole jar ……”, at which point the child in me took over. Grabbing the pickled onions I fled to my room shouting that they were my pickled onions, they had been bought for me, and if he ate them ‘all the time’ back home why did he have to eat mine?!

Sulking in my room whilst nurturing my pickled onions I reflected on a few other things that it is best not to do when you are visiting expats and as I suspect that many reading this will indeed be already getting excited about their plans for going over to see expat family or friends this summer, I thought I would share with you some suggestions as to what NOT to do on your trip.

Food Parcels: do not eat the produce that you bring over however much your host insists. They are being nice and don’t mean it at all. They want the items for themselves and if you eat any of them you will be thought of as selfish.

Newspapers: if you buy a paper at the airport bring it with you. Don’t leave it on the plane and then proceed to preface every conversation with “did you see in the paper this morning?”. No I didn’t! Papers are expensive for expats and you just threw away my chance to have a free one ‘mate’!

Body Clock: get used to my hours! I don’t mean to be rude, but you are coming to see me in my country so adapt to how and when we do things. I know what you are going to say “it is only a week” and it may be for you but multiply that by 6 or more for the amount of visitors an expat can expect each year and you see it is much more than a week. And …… you have an alternative, it is called a hotel, I don’t as this is my home.

I could continue but you will no doubt just think I am being grumpy, so let me prove to you that I am not alone.

Kate Shanahan gives some good advice on how to be the perfect guest when visiting an expat on the Expat Daily News Site, including the classic “vegans who go a bit wibbly when their organic tofu nudges up against a pack of bacon in their host’s fridge should not leave their own home, ever!”

The Expat Info Desk on the other hand has 10 great tips on what to do when visiting Expats in China , which you should consider carefully as the chances are that your Expat friends have integrated into the culture so they too will take a dim view to receiving scissors or knives as a gift as they indicate the severing of the relationship.

In case you are wondering, here are the things that you may bring but not touch if you are visiting me: pickled onions, corned beef, marmite, piccalilli, branston pickle and English mustard. If you are in any doubt don’t bring anything! I would rather do without my pickled onions than your friendship ………. but best you don’t push your luck!

Please feel free to search on Google for the published versions of these columns.

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