It was nearing a month and Peter's cousins were still occupying
the living room of his small flat, despite having been invited to
stay for just a weekend. At his wit's end after so long playing
host, Peter was spurred to drastic action. If the two guests
wouldn't leave, he would.
Peter booked a flight to an exotic destination, wrote a note
explaining he had left for urgent business, and took off.
Houseguest horror tales are common conversation fodder in expat
circles. As most foreigners living in China will attest, barely had
they announced the big move overseas before friends and family were
promising to visit.
A group of foreigners enjoy
the Latern Festival in Shanghai. (photo: China
Often, the suitcases are barely unpacked before people begin
making good on their word and arriving for extended stays.
Living in one of the world's top tourist destinations is an
obvious beacon for overseas visitors.
And in China, where English is still not widely spoken and
internal travel can be difficult, a host with local knowledge can
be an alternative to a package tour.
Of course, hosting guests can be a wonderful experience, staving
off homesickness and allowing expats to share the best of their
exciting new home, while perhaps also showing off newly acquired
It can bring a fresh dimension to old friendships, and is an
opportunity to catch up on the gossip from home.
But it can also be a stressful and frustrating time, when
routines are thrown into disarray and relationships are put to the
While some guests are more self-sufficient than others, hosts
can feel pressured to guarantee a memorable holiday, while at the
same time balancing their own work and personal commitments.
Philippa, 34, had been in Beijing just over a month when a
former colleague she had not seen for years e-mailed to say she was
coming over. Philippa invited the woman to stay at her flat for the
week, which turned out to be a trying experience.
"I booked us on a trip to the Great Wall, and on that morning
she took so long in the bathroom my husband was late for work. When
she was finally ready, she came out wearing a suit with a T-shirt
and ballet flats.
"I told her we'd be doing a lot of walking, and asked whether
she'd be warm enough, but she insisted she was fine. Of course, it
was freezing cold when we got up there. Everyone else was in
sneakers and big jackets and she started screaming at me in front
of the whole group, demanding to know why I didn't make her get
The guest turned sullen and barely spoke to her host for the
rest of her stay. Afterwards, Philippa learned from a mutual
acquaintance the woman made a habit of traveling the world and
crashing on people's couches. She invariably bad-mouthed the host
on returning home.
Chinese-American student Jeremy Chan says taking on the role of
host to others in his new foreign home highlights the reality that,
as an expat, he too is a "fish out of water".
"In the eyes of our friends, family, back home, the fact that we
have a mailing address in China qualifies us to act as tour guide,
no matter how tentative our grasp of the language, the people or
the customs," Chan says.
Shanghai-based international relocation consultant Kate Lorenz
recommends waiting for the initial whirlwind period of adjusting to
a new country to pass before hosting guests.
"During the first few months you are getting used to the house,
making it a home and understanding your neighborhood," the Ark
International managing director says.
"This is also the time where China is extremely exciting and you
are not yet missing your family and friends too much.
"However, after four to six months, expatriates often have a
little dip in their enthusiasm and enjoyment of being in China.
"This is a perfect time to have visitors. You have been in your
new home long enough to know how it works, what's in your
neighborhood and which restaurants and sights are a must to visit,"
Before inviting visitors to stay, it is important to take stock
of your living arrangements. If you have a one-bedroom flat, and
they want to bring the kids, suggest a reasonably priced hotel
And while you don't want to throw a rule book at your friends
the minute they put down their bags, it is a good idea to establish
exactly how long they can stay, before they arrive.
Money can be a touchy issue, but be sure to let them know how
much they will need to bring.
Transport, tickets for tourist attractions and performances,
restaurants and souvenirs all add up, and you don't want to be left
cooking every meal for them because they failed to budget.
Help with what to pack for the upcoming trip is usually
appreciated, and avoids you having to scrounge through your own
wardrobe because your friend didn't count on winter being so
E-mail your visitors with links for websites on your city and
other information beforehand, and do keep a stack of current
guidebooks in the guest room.
Once they arrive, provide guests with your address in both
Chinese and English, and your mobile phone number, and consider
buying an additional SIM card with a local number guests can use
for the duration of their stay.
"China is an easy place to have guests, however if they have
different recreational activities to you, this may be where some
rules would apply. For example, if you have young children and
don't want them disturbed late at night, you should warn your
visitors about coming home late, which easily and often occurs in
Shanghai's vibrant nightlife," Lorenz says.
The best way to ensure your guests have a great time, while
maintaining your own sanity, is to relax and focus on sharing
insights into your new life.
Set weekends and evenings aside to be with your visitors, and
let them explore the major tourist sites when you have work or
"The tasks that seem mundane to you are unusual to them.
Remember back to when you first arrived and what excited you, and
what you loved to see," Lorenz says.
"Show them the mix between new and old, Western and Eastern
culture. These are the best things about China.
"Give them good Chinese food, and good Western. Most of all,
relax and don't worry that your guests will be bored, China is an
exciting country and almost definitely will be a completely new
experience for them.
"Many people are here working and so guests cannot and usually
do not expect your undivided attention. Shanghai, like any city, is
best seen with someone who knows the place, so do make sure you
take the time at the weekends to show them parts of Shanghai that
are not in a guidebook."
(China Daily December 14, 2007)