2006 was a busy year for Andrew and me. After a year of living outside Canada, our friends and family finally decided they missed us (or wanted to seize the opportunity of a free bed and personal tour guides in Europe.) Either way, I didn’t mind a bit.
For me, the best thing about having visitors from home (especially first-timers in Europe) is not the opportunity for more travel (although that is a nice side benefit), it’s the wide-eyed wonderment at the things we take for granted after nearly two years of European life.
Having visitors helps us rediscover the excitement (and fear) of our first few months on the continent when everything was new and strange (and just a little bit scary).
The short ride to our house from the airport with first time guests is always interesting. Our visitors are usually tired and groggy after an all-night flight. Dealing with cranky airline officials and eating half-frozen airline food hasn’t helped their moral. Almost as soon as we leave the airport, however, they begin to perk up. The realisation that they aren’t in North America anymore sets in quickly. And then it begins…
“Hey what kind of car is that?”
“Wow, all of the houses are brick, and look at the roof tiles.”
“That’s the fifth bakery we’ve passed in this village!”
“Does everyone in your town have sheep?”
“Is that a bread vending machine?!”
By the time the fifteen minute drive to our house is complete, all signs of jet-lag have vanished (well, mostly) and our guests are eager to jump back in the car and see the sights.
Suddenly, things I walk by daily, without a second glance, are interesting again.
Seeing Grand Place through the eyes of my Father (a mechanical maintenance supervisor) and my Father-in-law (an artist and educator) were entirely different, yet equally interesting experiences.
It’s always a thrill to share one of our old favourite shops or restaurants with our guests and watch it become a new favourite for them.
But besides excitement and newness, visitors from home bring something else – familiarity.
Guests bring with them stories of folks back home, the latest home-town gossip and those food items that you just can’t get in Belgium (and they’ll be the only people around who understand why you’d want to eat them in the first place).
They laugh at the inside jokes you’ve tried to explain to your new expat friends only to realise from their blank expressions that it really was a ‘had to be there’ kind of moment.
They recognise instantly the references to your country’s geography, politics and local heroes. (It’s nice to mention Canada without a reference to Celine or Shania for a few weeks).
But most of all they knew you when – before this expat journey changed you (and you know it has). They remind you of where you came from and what your roots are.
So whether Andrew and I are here for another six months or another six years, I hope we can welcome more guests from home soon and I hope they bring a bit of Canada with them.