Expat Essentials

Sterling Schuyler in Rotterdam: Instead of rushing around Europe, show American visitors the best of your expat life

(Editor’s note: With the holidays and Christmas Markets opening in Germany and other countries, American expats across Europe are expecting visitors ….)

Now that you live in Europe, suddenly everyone wants to visit you, right? A free place to stay is incentive enough (if you have the space), but now you live a two-hour train ride from every major European destination.

Or so your friends think.

From itineraries to technology, we have a few tips to prepare your visitor for a great time during their first trip to Europe.

Europe is big

Your friends may think they can visit Amsterdam and London and Rome and Berlin and Paris and Prague within one week. Because everyone travels really cheaply by train, right?

Travel blogs and decades of film have painted this picture of a small, well-connected Europe that can be entirely traversed in days. And although the Schengen Area certainly makes traveling easier, it does not, in any way, change the speed of travel or the geography of the land.

Instead of packing your schedule with tourist attractions across the continent, show them the things you love about being an expat. Take them to your favorite bar, go for a walk or bike ride in the park, and eat gelato in the city center.

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t do touristy things. Maybe you haven’t been to the museum in your town. Or maybe there’s a walking food tour in the city that will introduce you to new restaurants and the history of where you live.

And if you have the time, choose one city where you can really go all out.

Technology Is King

Most Americans don’t have WhatsApp or use Facebook Messenger, but your phone plan probably doesn’t include SMS text messaging. So even if they pay for an international plan, it doesn’t guarantee you can communicate.

If you both use Apple devices, then iMessage will work as long as they’re connected to WiFi. Otherwise, encourage them to download WhatsApp or Messenger so that you can be in touch as soon as they arrive.

(See Dispatches’ post about the new generation of communications applications.)

They also may not have any translation apps on their phones. As expats, Google translate is our lifeline, but our visitors have no use for it at home.

Tell your friends about Google Translate or another translation app before arriving. It may ease some of their stress or anxiety about navigating through a foreign airport or city before they meet up with you.

Speaking English isn’t uniquely American

There’s no harm in downloading Duolingo before going on a trip, but some visitors may be especially stressed about not speaking the native language. They may be afraid of standing out or worried they’ll cause problems by not communicating correctly.

But as you know from your expat experience, English is how many Europeans communicate with each other. Most locals won’t be offended or upset that your visiting friend can’t speak the language.

So encourage them to learn a few phrases in your host country’s language, but reassure them that they will be fine without a scholarly grasp of it. Do, however, ask your friend to speak concisely. While many people speak English, they may not be able to keep up with a fast-paced conversation or understand a thick accent, slang or idiomatic English.

Driving everywhere isn’t common

Depending on where they’re from in America, they likely drive everywhere. If not, Uber and Lyft are readily available at the tip-tap of an app. And so they rarely use public transportation or walk anywhere.

You, on the other hand, confidently use Google maps to figure out whether taking a tram, riding a bike, or walking is the fastest way to your destination. But your guest may not have that confidence.

You may want to explain to them that yes, cabs are available, but may not be worth the price. And depending on where you are, Uber may not be an option. So remind them to pack comfortable shoes.

Personal space and comfort are not priorities

Europe is old. Sometimes, it’s hard for Americans to wrap their minds around just how old it is.

Europe is so old that many buildings won’t have air conditioning. It’s not necessarily a problem between October and April in most places, but if you have visitors between May and September, you may want to let them know that not all accommodations will have A/C.

And because the buildings are old, restaurants and hotels tend to be smaller than what Americans are accustomed to. They may need to be conscious of the people sitting behind them at the restaurant, or even get a little friendly with the people sitting at the same table.

Plan a trip that’s unforgettable for the right reasons

We’re well-adjusted to the lives we live abroad, but this may be a new experience for your guest. So have an honest chat with your friend about what’s feasible to do during their visit.

Because you both need a holiday, not a logistical nightmare.

About the author:

Sterling Schuyler moved to Rotterdam in June 2018 from Bavaria, Germany, but she is originally from the United States. As a result, she has restarted her career three times, and currently works as a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant.

When she’s not working, she enjoys board games, watching and reading science fiction, video games, cooking, grabbing a drink, and tending to her house plants.

You can find her on Twitter @TheAsianCraving and on Instagram@sterling.schuyler

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