5 Things to Remember When Your Expat Family Comes Home For the Summer

 “Gone Girl” was filmed in my hometown…how exciting! Stay tuned for more on this subject.

Whew! The summer has come to an end. And for most expats we are very excited to get back to our own lives. Not that we don’t love you. Not that we didn’t love visiting you. But the summer exodus to our hometown is absolutely, positively, exhausting with a capital “E”. Ever wonder how it feels to be a displaced person no place to call your home roaming from place to place? Well, we do. Not that we don’t love you. Not that we didn’t love visiting you. But coming home is kind of weird.

Here’s the 5 things to remember when your expat comes home to visit (based upon my own personal feelings and others who have shared but will not be named). No hate mail please. We all still love you dearly.

1. For god’s sake let us drive around. We have been darting in and out of foreign traffic using our car like a warrior’s shield for the past twelve months. We would love to drive in normal traffic for once. Just to meander along with people who share the same rules of the road and who presumably didn’t just learn to drive, would be a dream come true! Sharing the road with people who yield to pedestrians, people who don’t consider the roadways to their own personal Gran Prix, and children who are strapped into car seats instead of hanging out sunroofs would be like living in Pleasantville. This doesn’t mean we do not trust your driving. It just helps us emotionally connect to our hometown again. Cruising through streets and neighborhoods that we once loved reminiscing as we navigate our way through our own history. It’s about a trip down memory lane and fond memories. It’s about putting our hands on the wheel and feeling something familiar that grounds us to our past. Don’t take it personally, it’s not about you. It’s all about us.

2. Regardless of how many calories or the lack of dietary nutrients — let us eat it.  We don’t care if we have to run to Los Angeles and back to Boston to get rid of the calories we intend to consume; we want to eat what we want and when we want it. We have been eating humus for a year (not that we don’t love humus) but most of us (especially Middle Eastern expats) want to literally PORK out. We are on a BBQbiscuitandgravypepperonipizzacanadianbacondidIjustsayBACON…holiday! Bring it on, pile it high, slice it up, and slather it with sauce because we are taking up residence at this dining room table! Bacon, bacon, bacon. Along with all of the other yummy dishes that we love so much. So if you hate the restaurant and don’t want to go there I suggest just going enjoying the company and ordering the salad. And what about that long list of dishes we want mom to fix but she doesn’t want to fix anymore? Or even worse, the dishes that she thinks we love but we no longer love and she is still making them as if we still love them? My suggestion, before your expat family comes home ask for a list of restaurants and the list of foods that they want mom, aunt, sister…whoever to fix while they are home. More than likely, the expats will not be interested in going to the new restaurant in town. They will probably be interested in the places they remember and loved.

3. Ask Questions. So we’ve been living in a foreign country, (for me) a Middle Eastern country to boot, what sort of questions do you have for us? Seriously, we are like foreign correspondents. We are better than FOX News and MSNBC rolled into one…because we are going to tell you the truth. How it really is. Regardless of how you think you feel about the Middle East or Russia or Europe or wherever your expat is coming from, you have a friend that will offer a candid opinion on what it is really like…so go ahead and ask us…something…..anything. Need to study a map first? No problem. We’d be happy to explain it all to you. The truth is that whatever you are hearing on the news is really far from the whole story. They are simply snap shots of an issue, an event, or a place. We actually live here. We interact with people from all over the world. We gave up a lot to move away and explore. We gave up holidays with family, comforts of a familiar life, the feeling of belonging so we could go out to explore and come back with wide eyes and smiles to tell you how fantastic the world is. So please ask us. Ask us anything. Don’t lose this chance to understand it, to experience second-hand, because we are dying to share our lives and experiences with you. Yes, it is nice to know that Maude down the street passed away; but we would also like to tell you about our wonderful neighbors Mohammad and Fatima. Can’t think of anything. Start writing your questions down now 🙂

4. Don’t hate us because….. Yes, I have a full-time housemaid that lives with me. Don’t hate me for that. You could too if your country had different immigration policies. So don’t hate me for things I cannot change. The truth is, my housemaid is kind of like a sister-wife, a social responsibility project and an employee all at the same time. The salary that I pay supports a family of 8 in the Philippines. I also provide hand-me-down clothes, school books, holiday bonuses, birthday gifts, all personal items, food, a cell phone, an apartment and health insurance. I believe that tops any minimum wage job in the USA. I also live in a world that I don’t understand very well. Drivers and housemaids help us manuever through the unfamiliar and they are very valuable. Also, don’t hate me because I post pictures of Rolls Royces or beautiful beaches or gold bar machines; the truth is (for me in the Middle East) it’s like I live in Disney World. I am not REALLY a part of the Rolls Royce lifestyle. I am just a bystander. I watch as they drive by. And just like Disney World, it is fascinating and mesmerizing, and surreal. Which is why I post pictures — because I am just as blown away by it as you are. For all the other expats living in other parts of the world; there’s always trade-offs. Things always appear more glamorous than they really are. And for the beautiful beaches….well, they’re just a short plane ride. And when we live in a more conservative and restrictive country — we have to get away. Don’t hate us for it.

5. Try to remember…. That our kids aren’t around all of the time and so they miss out. Not only do they miss out on material stuff, they also miss out on the hugs and kisses. That happens and it is understandable. And yes we made the decision to live far away. But do us a favor. Don’t talk about all of the things that you did with the other kids while our kids are in earshot. Don’t talk about the things grandma and grandpa bought for cousin Emily and Andrew but didn’t buy for our kids because “You know, delivery is a pain in the arse. What if it gets lost? I don’t know how to navigate an online order. It was just spur of the moment!” When you say this, our kid’s little ears are as good as a wild animal’s, and it hurts them. And then we have to give them some story to make them feel better or go out and buy them the new XBox to make up for the fact that they have a long-distance relationship with their family. No blame. Just be aware. Another thing, for many of us, it costs a boat load of money to get home. And even if our company is paying for the tickets that means we are substituting a family vacation at an exotic place just to come to see you. So when you are organizing family events like reunions, birthday parties, weddings, anniversaries….think of us first. We usually want to be there and if can’t we will appreciate being considered. Nothing makes our heart hurt more than to be excluded from something that we could have attended if given the opportunity.

Until next year. All of our love.

The Expats

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32 thoughts on “5 Things to Remember When Your Expat Family Comes Home For the Summer

    1. This is the most self serving, spoiled, and childish blog posts I’ve ever read. Why is it that expats from a totally non hardship country write these “oh you just don’t know how hard it is to be us” type of blog posts? You live in Abu Dhabi?! The HORROR! What a difficult life you must lead! Incidentally, if you have a driver, I have no idea how you’ll ever return to the US without some breakdown. If you can’t hack driving in the UAE then you’re not able to function in life. Call me when you lived with a remote tribe in Mali, or a hostile nation where you have to evacuate once a year, and then I’ll give you some respect. Till then, you live in America JR, and a luke warm representation of the ME. Your trip home will be same same to your life overseas…only without (gasp!) your maid that you pay slave labor wages to support her family of 100 back home. You’ve found a way to justify paying a full time employee the small amount you do by gloating how you support her family back home, give her you raggedy old clothes and she gets to live in a tiny room in your apartment. Best of luck with that karma. Give me a break. Give yourself a reality check about your hard life with your driver, your maid, and all that comes with living with difficulty of foreign drivers.

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      1. For some reason you think you know it all MBS. Well get this in countries like this women are not allowed to drive hence the need of a driver. In some countries foreigners are not allowed to drive at all.
        You forget that expats don’t have family as a back up in case of emergency or if you just need an extra pair of hands. Hence the live in helper.
        And it doesn’t matter in which country you live it is always hard if it’s not your home country. And I know cause I lived in the village of an African country (several) and I live in Singapore now.
        So can you please not react to things you are obvious clueless about or to things that just make you jealous for some reason. Thank you

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  1. i hear your words and this is how i feel, I’m off to the homeland next week for a family wedding and its costing a fortune because i wasn’t asked when would suit us, just here’s your invite, same with christenings and our events, would be nice if the endless visitors to us thought about ours and the kids birthdays, proms, events etc

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  2. I love when I can relate to posts that aren’t everyday experiences, or when I find someone else going through the same thing I am. My family and I haven’t seen our family for 2 years a few months, and it’s been pretty difficult. We’re living in Nepal at the moment, and soon to be in Africa in just 6 months. Seeing our family in 2 months, and we’re so excited. Thanks for the great post!

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  3. Some of this is so funny. Unfortunately you will only get it if you’ve been an expat. *grin* I usually tell folks back home I’m coming for a porkation. … not a vacation. It’s also sad because some people think we live this dreamy life (and YES some times we do) but it’s instant tears when I think of all the fantastic things I am missing back home that money can never buy. I am so very grateful for this amazing opportunity to have this great adventure, but look forward to every chance to have a more fabulous time back home. Home is where the heart is and mine is in South Africa! Thanks for making me smile Gina!

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  4. Awesome post…..it clearly sums up how I feel about going home for the summer with my young family. First time being an expat in a foreign country. Oh I can’t wait to get some bacon. I really miss my bacon lol. The questions yes I would love for my friends to ask me since it can be difficult trying to call and talk due to time difference and connection.

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  5. I totally disagree with #1, I find driving in the UK, and the rest of Europe, SO much easier and less stressful! I’m totally not looking forward to returning and driving in the States. Heck, I thought even Thailand wasn’t that bad!

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  6. This is great. I live in Mexico and it’s amazing how the driving one binds us expats together. It’s kinda cool to get behind the wheel again without using your horn as often as your turn signal (and actually I am the only one using a turn signal in Mexico).

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  7. I totally get it! Even when we go on vacation to non-pork banning countries, the first thing we search for is bacon. Straight off the plane in the U.S. we want meat lovers pizza.
    I find people don’t ask questions like our life overseas doesn’t really matter…

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  8. We also live in the Middle East, and every summer we eat pork every day, sometimes more than once a day.

    On a more serious note, I love your point about being considered when family events are planned. I missed my brother’s wedding and my niece’s wedding because despite my pleading with them to wed during break (I’m a teacher), they had their weddings during the school year when I was simply not able to attend. It also broke my heart not to be with my dad when he died.

    Yes, we choose the ex-pat life, but it is not, as you say, always glamorous. We do pay a price. And it is very much appreciated when family and friends understand.

    Thanks for the this.

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  9. Seriously girl you should be knighted for having the guts to write what we all think!!! Thank you for putting it so so perfectly!!!!

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  10. This is so true and I agree with all of them except #5. I have learned to accept that the other grandchildren get more hugs, more kisses, more presents, more time and in exchange for that our kids get to see the world, learn new languages, learn new cultures, and try new foods. The grass is always greener as they say. Our kids aren’t close to our families and probably never will be but they have established lasting relationships with people from all over the world as well as my husband and I. I couldn’t ask for more than that and I don’t think my children are suffering. Although we do feel like we are suffering without BACON!! Oh sweet Jesus bacon!!! But this isn’t our first Expat assignment and I don’t believe it will be our last.

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  11. this was a really cool read and I think all are very valid points. Well, all except, the last. When WE chose to be expats, WE are the ones disrupting things. In many cases, WE are the ones screwing up the lives of those we are closest to. And while I COMPLETELY understand that we want to be considered, to expect others to cater to our whims because we CHOSE to leave is – pure and simple -selfish. True, for truly special occasions (you mentioned weddings), it would be nice (and we are well within our rights to inquire) to plan for when we could attend. But it’s not OUR event and to expect our needs/wants to trump the bride and groom and the other 100 guests is self-centered.

    And to the point about kids and their ears… Yes, it would be nice if our kids never heard anything that made them sad – especially from family. But not to put too fine a point on it, you are the reason your kids miss out on the ice cream run with Uncle Ted and the “just because” present from Grandma. It is completely unfair for you to expect nobody to mention those things in passing. It sounds like you expect everybody to be OK with your absence and for people to cater to your whims just because you have made an appearance. Your kids get some great experiences the rest of your family doesn’t, but something tells me you don’t filter those out of your conversations…

    After living away for 10 years, I understand where every one of these points come from, but I don’t think the last one misses the mark.

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    1. Hi Chris, thanks for the constructive criticism. Unlike some who disagreed with this post you didn’t name call and get super nasty. When I wrote this post I was kind of in a bad mood and it is reflected in my writing. Most of the time I am pretty cheerful in my writing style. Little did I know this post would be read and shared all over the world. I have definitely learned a lesson. I will be more clear regarding my feelings on issues within my blog posts.I think I was misunderstood because I didn’t make myself clear. Best, Gina

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  12. I’ve been expat since 1992 currently in Latin America. Life is not all sugar and spice neither for me, my husband or my kids. But it opens up so many advantages in terms of languages, experiences, tolerance, appreciation. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Loved your article – so completely relate to it

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  13. We are in the process of being re-expatriated to France because of concerns about ” security”. I am very sorry to be leaving. I had a lovely encounter with a lady in the supermarket the other day. My card wasn’t accepted and she insisted on paying for my 2 bottles of yogurt drink because I was a guest in her country and that I had expressed my love for Venezuela. This is just someone I met in the queue in the supermarket!! Can’t we all just get along along and be nice to one another. I I was so touched

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