As the first green shoots of spring begin to break through, the thoughts of friends and relatives back home inevitably turn to… visiting foreign parts. The following is a sort of memo to myself, a necessary reminder to prevent me from making all 2014’s visitor mistakes all over again this year. It may strike a chord with other expats in other scenic Italian places and, with luck, limit all our unrealistic expectations.
– Remember the majority of visitors are going to expect you to take them around and show them places most of the time, even those who have previously said otherwise and claimed to be independent travellers.
– Do not make offers unless you are fully prepared to go through with them. It is unfair to hold it against guests for taking you up on anything you might have rashly offered, even if you never actually expected to be sleeping on the floor for a week.
– Do not be upset if visitors fail to find the charming and unusual historic details of your house remarkable or even interesting. Expect them to ignore them completely or find them eccentric and inconvenient. And, in some cases, to say so.
– Remember a surprising number of people — including big, tough young men and seen-it-all done-it-all seniors, of both sexes – are actually afraid of spiral stairs. Even robust, modern ones. Anyone who knows of a tactful way to discover IN ADVANCE if guests have this problem, please let me know, so perhaps embarrassment can be spared all round.
– Do not expect anyone to ‘get’ the Italian railway ticket system in two sentences. (After all, it took you the best part of 30 years.) Resist the temptation to sit guests down and take the time the full explanation would require: they would consider that A. very eccentric and B. very boring. The only exceptions are small boys, and some men, who are fascinated by railways — they would really appreciate the proper technical explanation for why our trains are often halted for no apparent reason. (It was my then small son who explained that one to me.)
– Do NOT get cross enough to push visitors under a train when they repeatedly bleat: ”But why can’t we just get on that train?” when they didn’t take in the two-sentence explanation that you have now repeated four times. “Because we haven’t got the right kind of ticket” just doesn’t work. (And the person who asked me: “Why have we got the wrong sort of tickets then?” really was lucky to survive the passing of the next train.)
–There is a place for “I told you so”. If you are to avoid high blood pressure and possible volcanic eruptions, stop being too diplomatic. Tell them the important things a couple of times and if they don’t try to take it in or just dismiss it, don’t be too sympathetic. If they complain of mosquito bites, remind them that you did strongly recommend they didn’t have both windows and shutters open at night when the light was on. They’ll remember next time.
– If you object to something, say so. Some people need complete candour and anything less doesn’t register. For example, standing firmly between them and the front door, say “DON’T take the towels from the bathroom to the beach, please. I left two beach towels on your bed for you, didn’t you see them?”
– And do NOT under any circumstances invite anyone for a fortnight. A week in some cases may strain things to the limit. Four days can be too much…