We thought we’d come and stay with you over half-term. That’s alright isn’t it?”
When you move abroad, especially to a destination as beautiful as Gstaad, you quickly become everyone’s favourite relative. We learned this a few short weeks after arriving in Saanenland.
A friend of mine has a theory about family visits. It goes like this: if you live really close to your relatives they will drop by frequently – for a cup of tea perhaps – but won’t stay for long. If you live further afield – a couple of hours’ drive – you won’t see them much at all; the journey’s too long for frequent visits, yet too short to warrant an overnight stay. If you live a long way away, however, beware. Your family may not visit as frequently as those in the next town, but whenever they do come to see you they staaaaaaay. For a long time, if you’ll let them.
When our (to remain nameless) relative decided they’d like to join us for a week’s skiing, we were far from settled. Still hunting for our ideal home, we were living in a short-term, semi-furnished, rented apartment. We had beds, a sofa, a kitchen table and chairs, but not much else.
But of course we said yes (“it’ll be lovely to see you!”) then began to figure out how exactly we were going to host them.
Our household belongings were still in storage and as it made no sense to buy duplicates of everything, we were getting by on the bare minimum. But now there was no avoiding the fact that we had to acquire extra crockery, cutlery, duvets, pillows, bed linen, coat hangers, and on and on.
It was a trifle galling, but I resigned myself to a drive to Bulle, if not Montreux, to get everything we needed. I was certain there was no way of kitting ourselves out locally.
I am delighted to report I was proven utterly wrong. We used a mixture of large and small shops in Gstaad, but learned it’s perfectly possible to live ‘locally’, even for such a long list of household goods. You don’t just find posh frocks and watches along the Promenade!
Four days good
Many years have passed since that first visit. Since then we’ve hosted countless friends and relatives. So many, in fact, that we’ve got it down to a fine art. My advice to newly-minted expats in this situation? The ideal duration for any visit is four days: guests arrive on Thursday and depart on Tuesday. This gives you enough time to cram in the sights and sounds, as well as make time for relaxation.
And, yes, I have been known to create itineraries for my guests. I’m not sure my parents would agree, but I find it’s a great way to make sure we don’t waste any time. If it’s good enough for travel agencies, I figure, it’s good enough for us.
Sense of perspective
But it’s not all take, take, take where visitors are concerned. They also give a wonderful sense of perspective.
I clearly remember when some American friends came to stay. They were lovely guests, eager to see as much of Switzerland as possible. One morning they told us they were going out for a drive. “Great,” we said. They asked us for suggestions and we drew up a shortlist of options: Gruyères, Château de Chillon, or perhaps Villars.
On their return our friends appeared somewhat disgruntled. Had something gone wrong? “Oh Montreux was beautiful,” they enthused, “but all the shops were shut.”
We looked at them in surprise. “But of course they were – it’s Sunday.”
And then it hit us. It hadn’t crossed our minds to mention Sunday closing. Had we become so acclimatised to the Swiss way of life we could no longer call ourselves expats?