Some of my best expat memories have been made when I got to switch roles from visitor to host and show friends and family my new home. Of course, it always feels good to be the local expert for once instead of the newbie. Navigating the city without a map! Identifying the best coffee shop in town! Knowing which bus will take you to your destination! All important and satisfying skills.
Another thing I like leading up to the visit itself is that having guests gives you the opportunity to reflect on what you truly love about the place you’re living. Just think: you may have anywhere from three days to a couple of weeks to squeeze in all the things you want your visitor to experience and know about the place you live. You have to distill all the highlights of the time you’ve spent abroad to make a tour of what is now your home. What would you show a visitor that has never been to your country before? What strikes you as unique about your city? You’ll get to see what you really value, and it may end up surprising you.
Furthermore, it’s always interesting to see how the list of “must do” activities evolves depending on the visitor. It’s one thing when you have visitors from another city or another state—in most cases, there’s probably just as many familiar aspects of your city as there are new or exotic aspects. When you live in a foreign country, the stakes are a little higher. You have to put some serious effort into balancing the “here is where I work” and “these are my friends” parts of the visit with some serious tourist action. When I lived in Vienna, I did everything from the typical “Top Ten” tour of the city to a historical exploration of imperial residences to the underground foodie tour of open air markets and ethnic buffets. I even had one memorable weekend in which I shuttled all around the city with a friend to see the homes and workplaces of different classical musicians. My visitors’ different approaches to the city informed the approach we took to seeing it together as a team, and in the process I always ended up seeing a new side of my own home.
I haven’t had any visitors to Sweden yet, but I will soon, and I can’t wait. My best friend from high school is arriving on Saturday, and I have just under two weeks to show her as much as I can about Sweden and my life here. I’m also really looking forward to hearing her impressions of Sweden and my life here. She is just coming off 1.5 years of working in South Korea as an English teacher, and from what I’ve heard so far, I think that Sweden—and the sometimes sleepy Skåne region in particular—will have a dramatically different feel from where she has been living recently.
Katie Harger with goat cheese, circa 2005. I imagine that the wide range of dairy products available in Sweden will be among the most appreciated differences between Sweden and South Korea.
I started making a list of all the things I want to do with her, and then I had to divide it into different sections for Lund, Malmö, and beyond! (read: other places in Skåne, Copenhagen, and Stockholm) to make it more manageable. As you might guess, the sections for Lund and Malmö alone—the area where I live—have already exceeded the realm of what’s possible to do in the time we have together, let alone leaving any time to see other parts of Sweden or the surrounding area—you know, silly tourist attractions, just little places like Copenhagen and Stockholm. I don’t know how we’ll be able to pick and choose, but somehow we’ll make it all work. Maybe I can convince her to stay longer… (wink wink?!)
Obligatory Tourist Destination: Lund's Domkyrka. Photo by elsamu (CC BY NC ND)
More than anything, though, I’m really looking forward to being able to share my experiences as an expat with her instead of trying to describe it all in words. There are so many small details that create the sense of a place—the way people move through the streets, traffic sounds, street vendor food smells, the volume and tone people use when talking to each other, the colors people paint their houses and in which they dress themselves, and more, and more, and more. All these details can be perceived at the same time and often unconsciously as you move through the streets: my friend might appreciate my explanations from time to time, but I think that for the most part it will be enough for her to soak it all in without relying on me as an intermediary. I can’t wait until she arrives at the airport on Saturday, to share the place I live with my friend, and for us to experience this country in a new way together.
Bicycling: it's a way of life in Lund. Photo by Nicoze (CC BY NC ND)
Stay tuned to read about the still-evolving list of things to see and do in Lund and Malmö!