Hotel Season at Chez Expatria has come to an early close this summer; the drawbridge is up and I can start working off the effects of the last few months’ unmitigated consumption. I might even scamper off to enjoy some holidays of my own. But while it’s fresh in my mind, I’ve decided to share the reasons why providing hospitality in my new country is an essential part of my expat experience.
Guests are ENTERTAINING
Sorry to disappoint those who think life in Expatria is a daily adventure, but the tedium of existence intrudes. I shop for groceries, clean the bathroom, sit at my desk, and if I’m lucky, enjoy the occasional glass of wine or meal out.
I admit that when newly arrived, there is a little tingle of excitement called novelty. Where exactly does one buy groceries? What’s Hungarian for Fabric Softener? Is this tomato soup or pasta sauce?
Then there is the satisfaction phase where you’ve figured it out – you’re not going to starve and you’ll be able to pay your bills. But then comes routine and queuing at the supermarket is as annoying here, as it is anywhere. Worse, because Hungarian checkout ladies are frankly terrifying and if you accidentally forget to weigh and price all your fresh produce – proving yourself not just a foreigner but a moron – the glare will wither you in your shoes.
With my house guests in tow, its playtime again. I’m at pains to shore up the illusion that living in Expatria is glamorous so we wine and dine, and generally make the most of the city, which renews my enthusiasm for everything I’d started taking for granted.
Having someone to stay is EDUCATIONAL
If you have bright friends, or even mildly intelligent ones, they’ll arrive on your doorstep full of questions. I’ll be variously interrogated on topics such as history, politics, religion and language, and you may be surprised to know that not all the answers immediately leap to my mind. That’s why my house is stocked with guide books; so I can avoid displays of ignorance with “let’s look it up and see what (insert book title here) has to say”. Inevitably, if my guests have enquiring minds and aren’t just on a three-day bender, it’s amazing how much I learn.
Funnily enough in the discussing of the political climate or public interest issues, I realise how much has sunk in (gratifying) and how much more there is to know (enlightening). Unfortunately in Hungary, trying to explain the current political landscape just leaves me depressed and confused. Google it.
You can be a tourist again and go EXPLORING
The best guests – as we all know – are happy to explore under their own steam, so your own life isn’t entirely derailed. But if I have the time and I’m invited to join them (and it’s not the sixth set of house guests in as many weeks) there’s usually something I’ve kept on the back-burner; a museum, day trip, gallery, or even just an interesting shop I always planned to visit… eventually.
Having friends stay gets me off my bottom and into exploration mode. Even better, if they have an agenda and it includes things I’ve been lazy about – exploring cemeteries, the Jewish quarter, watching Opera, getting out of the City – I might tag along and find myself having one of those “no expectation, high satisfaction” experiences.
Guests inspire culinary EXPERIMENTATION
Hungarians love to cook the insides of things. No part of the animal (usually a big hairy pig) goes to waste. Chosen carefully, I love Hungarian cooking but after trying to entice my mother into a few restaurants on her recent visit, I was bluntly told that she wanted to go to Burger King and didn’t want to see any more of this “pigs knuckle and ram’s arsehole” food.
To be fair I have no desire to eat ram’s arsehole either (N.B. if you’ve perked up at this I should say it wasn’t on the menu, she was speaking metaphorically) but it did rather decimate my list of dining out suggestions. But a week later, two friends arrived, one of whom can’t get enough of innards and things stewed in their own fat and we were off and racing. I’m not a tripe eater myself, but there were a lot of wonderful dishes consumed that week
Which leaves me with a few last words; EXTRAVAGANCE, EXCESS, EXERCISE…The END