One of the things the newer expat discovers very quickly is that they suddenly have a large number of new friends.
Some of that will have been expected - the new neighbours, the other expats living along the road, the nice local people in the nearby shop or bar etc.
What is often more of a surprise is just how many ‘old-new’ friends they suddenly also discover back home! There is a proven mathematical relationship that governs this phenomenon. It runs along the lines that the number of ‘old-new friends back home’ made will be directly proportional to the tourist attraction rating of your new location.
This really isn’t a joke! Many people see the newly settled expat as an ideal opportunity for a free stop over or cheap holiday. Obviously most expats welcome family and close friend visits as they would anywhere, but sometimes this can become a little too much and a problem.
One expat was telling me that between late June and the end of August, she and her family had not had a single weekend without visitors.
Another family was also telling me that having opened a small hotel, they’d had several awkward situations with friends asking if they could stay for periods. They said it had been very tricky because their various friends always wanted to come during the relatively short holiday season thereby occupying rooms they could otherwise let out. This meant that their real and precious income was being hit hard. Apparently some friends had reacted very negatively when they’d been asked to re-schedule their planned visit or pay for the room(s).
I also know of another working family who had a fairly ‘distant’ friend coming to stay for a few days. The day before arrival he very considerately emailed them with a list of places he’d like to visit and a rough itinerary – he’d also been doubly thoughtful and included a reminder that he couldn’t drive so they’d need to factor that in when making arrangements to take him around!
These are of course exceptional cases, or at least I hope they are. The vast majority of those that descend upon the conveniently located expat are well-intentioned and considerate people and their visits are welcomed. The trouble is that although each individual visit may be welcome, cumulatively they can be a strain.
What those old next-door neighbours of yours who have just popped in for a few days fail to realise is that being an expat is not usually the same thing as being on holiday. Perhaps they think that spending a day or two with them is not a big ask, but if they’re the fourth visitors in the past 6 weeks then that’s a total of 8 days you’ve had to take off work to entertain and show people around – and this says nothing about the cumulative costs of food and drink etc.
So is there an answer to this?
I suppose you could try to avoid moving somewhere that is too picturesque or which has beautiful sea and beaches. Certainly beaches, cute city-centres or historic towns with castles can be risky in terms of attracting old-new friends.
On the positive side you could try only handing out your contact details to very close family and true friends while swearing them to secrecy.
If that’s not your scene then what about taking some photos of a cement factory somewhere and sending them to all your old acquaintances back home on a post card labelled “view from our garden”?
You can be subtle and email back home to one and all making casual little asides such as “really enjoying it here in spite of the local health scares”.
These are all techniques that real expats claimed to have actually used with some success. I wonder if they were serious?