House Guests

Most of the residents of the Algarve know that they live in a very desirable region of Europe, if not the world. Many expats, whether from the British Isles, France, Germany or elsewhere, are lucky enough to have built a dream house in the hills or at the beach or purchased or rent a luxury condo in resort towns like Tavira or Vilamoura. We’re talking square footage in abundance. They’re not called villas for nothing.

Why do we do it? Among other valid reasons is so we can have plenty of room to entertain. We’ve constructed our expansive nests as bait to lure our family and friends down for visits to scenic, historic, sunny Portugal. What were we thinking? Did it ever occur to us that a number of contacts on our e-mail list would actually break down and buy airline tickets?

And they do come on down, don’t they? At times, some of the discount airline tickets are so inexpensive (translate – cheap), that even our dear friends and relatives from Scotland don’t hesitate to take advantage of our hospitality. Okay, that’s a stereotype, but you get the point.

Children are a necessary evil. Most parents feel obligated to stay in touch with their kids and so, the offspring eventually show up, especially if you pay for the ticket. Unless they have kids of their own, and if they’re younger than 35, almost inevitably, they take off for the beaches of Lagos or Sagres in a matter of hours.

So they’re no problem. If your kids have kids of their own, you’re in for a week to ten days of hell, biting your lip as your progeny demonstrate, every 15 minutes or so, that they have no clue when it comes to raising children. Most of your Portuguese handicrafts, as well as china you managed to ship unbroken from China, will be destroyed. Thankfully, they usually have a home to return to.

So what about other relatives? Like, let’s say your parents. They tend to come down for longer stays – two weeks or more. British parents seldom travel unless they’re staying for at least a fortnight, which apparently stands for no less than a month. No matter, Mom and Dad will have successfully driven you crazy by the third day.

The rest of the stay is more like purgatory, which you must endure if you want to remain included in the will. Most parents don’t disapprove of your new life style even though “that’s not the way we do it back in the Wales.” Rather, they become concerned and offer sincere advice, which almost always involves returning to your childhood home, now that real estate has become “so affordable,” and “we can see each other every day.”

Other relatives offer their own unique challenges. After a few years of living separately, we tend to forget why we moved away from home in the first place. Cheap brothers (the ones that leave for the men’s room whenever the check is requested); insecure sisters (the ones that end up calling their shrink back in Australia on your cell phone); alcoholic brothers-in-law (the ones that have a flask in their suitcase and still manage to drink a 12-pack of Super Bock before dinner); uncles who cheat at golf; fat aunts who show up pool side in bikinis; cousins who you don’t remember exactly; mothers-in-law in general; and any parent who has remarried some much older or younger or simply an “evil” person – each in their own way will try your patience to very near the breaking point. However, you cannot tell them to “Get out!” like you did that one Thanksgiving, because they’re staying in your guest room and have no other place to go.

So how about your friends? You know… the ones who were always so much fun at the country club, or on the cruise, or were so reliable with the car pool or coached your kids’ soccer team. This vast and unpredictable category of visitors can include elementary school classmates; fraternity brothers; prep-school teammates; colleagues from work; fellow church members; expat social members; or somebody who you met on the plane, during one of your previous visits. This diverse group has one thing in common – you’ve never actually lived with them before for any extended period of time.

Now your dear, dear friends are ensconced in your guest room and coming out occasionally to carefully explain their very strict dietary requirements (no seafood and only organic wine, for example). They don’t seem to be able to relax and so they “need” to get on your computer for hours at a time. Why they erased your contact list will probably remain a mystery. They snore so loud that you’re afraid the apartment will implode, but they complain in the morning that their bed is too soft or firm (choose one).

We’ve had visitors just leave their towels on the bathroom floor. They don’t know what they want to do, but they hate walking around on all those uneven cobble stones in old-town Faro (in high heels, of course); or hiking along the cliffs (too high and scary); and they don’t like the beach (“too hot” and way “too sandy”); but they don’t like the mountains either (too cool and “nothing’s goin’ on”). And they don’t understand why “nobody around here speaks Spanish.”

Anecdote alert – My lovely wife and I recently hosted an old high-school buddy and his wife, who I hadn’t seen for many years. As a courtesy, I prepared the coffee maker each night before, so when they got up much earlier than us, all they had to do was switch on the machine.

Well, I forgot one evening about half way into their 10-day stay. So naturally, they took matters into their own hands. Instead of filling the 12-cup pot up all the way, they decided 10 cups of water was enough. They then heaped in ten scoops of coffee. Apparently in their previous 60-plus years of life, they had never encountered a coffee maker. When my lovely wife attempted to add a teaspoon of sugar, the white granules failed to sink below the surface. Did I mention we split every dinner check, while I took full responsibility for the wine, muffins and potato chips that were magically available in the cupboard and gasoline as well as tolls on the A22? I guess they never noticed the cameras.

A lot of times a visit by folks from home becomes quite a chore and to be honest, we’re often relieved when they leave. So why do we do it? Well, here’s what ol’Pat thinks—the Algarve is such a lovely, special, unusual, warm and friendly place that it’s simply wrong not to share it with the rest of the world, especially the ones we love. Also, we forget what they’re like, and it takes a nice long visit to remind us.

By Pat, the expat
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For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.