Blood is thicker than water, they say, but an influx of balikbayans may have you wanting to spill your relatives’ blood when they overstay their welcome. Here are 12 tips for staying sane when your relatives come to visit:
Tell them what to pack ahead of time. First-time balikbayans have tendencies toward outrageous over-packing, and their pasalubongs, truth be told, can be somewhat lackluster. They’ll bring things like toilet paper and canned goods (corned beef and Spam being common balikbayan bring-alongs) and may send or bring you things like toothbrushes or food you can easily find here (e.g. chocolates like Snickers or M&Ms). Save them the expense of excess baggage and yourself the awkwardness of thanking them for things you’ve got an ample supply of (or worse, scolding them for vastly increasing the carbon footprint of a simple corned-beef breakfast or a trip to the toilet!). You can suggest a list of things to pack and a list of things not to pack (if you’re unsure about how to bring it up, you can try mentioning in an email, “Good news—you know that corned beef we always had when we were staying with you? It’s already available here, so you can have comfort breakfasts as much as you want!”). If they ask you what you would like as a pasalubong, you can ask them for things that are harder to find or more expensive here than abroad. Or you can simply tell them to pack light and pencil in a trip to the duty-free stores near the airports instead. And, though it goes without saying, remember to handle all this with a light touch and express your sincere gratitude for their thoughtfulness—whatever it is that they bring home for you.
Stock up on mineral, distilled, or purified water. You definitely don’t want your relatives getting sick while they’re staying with you—not only will they be miserable and irritable, but you’ll have to take care of them. That can mean using mineral, distilled, or purified water for drinking and cooking because delicate stomachs can react negatively to our local regular water (even when boiled or filtered). To keep costs down, buy in bulk, especially if a large group of relatives is coming to stay.
Find out about quirks, allergies, and other medical conditions. Ask your relatives in advance if they have any special needs or quirks or if they are allergic to anything. This will ensure you don’t take your aunt who is allergic to bees to a honey farm or make your allergic-to-chicken cousin try isaw or feed her lactose-intolerant brother halo-halo or leche flan. You don’t want them to remember you as the person whose ignorance resulted in their breaking out into hives or going into anaphylactic shock. If a relative has a particularly dangerous allergy, read up on it so you know if you need to prepare for anything.
Let them know about your house rules and limitations. Hospitality doesn’t mean bending over backwards or contorting yourself and your lifestyle into pretzels. If you have policies or rules that are observed by your household, ask your balikbayan guests to observe them as well. Common examples are not wearing shoes when going into carpeted rooms or turning off the air conditioner when leaving for the day. Other rules are not so much rules but limitations imposed by the state of our homes and facilities, like throwing toilet paper into trash cans instead of into the toilet, since our sanitary lines tend to clog quickly! Think of it this way: if you don’t tell them what the house rules are, you have no right to complain when they break them.
Wash and air out your spare linens and towels. More people staying with you will mean more beds slept in and more showers taken, so make sure you have an ample supply of ready-to-use bedsheets and towels. Don’t make them share (especially towels) because, well, eeew. A safe bet is to have at least one spare set of sheets and towels for every person staying with you.
Keep extra toiletries. Make sure you have a supply of spare toothbrushes and extra rolls of toilet paper so they can deal with the necessities. This may or may not stretch to shampoo, soap, and conditioner, but it’s best to be safe—anyway, these things don’t go bad, so if your guests don’t use them up, you can always use them yourself. Keeping extra of everything means that they won’t keep asking you for them and they won’t need you to drive them to the store for an emergency supply run.
Plan an itinerary. Bored people get whiny or irritable. This is true whether they’re four or forty, whether they’re from Singapore or Seattle. Plan activities for every day your relatives will be staying with you; e-mail them or call them up to find out what things they’re interested in doing and offer your suggestions so that they’ll have a say in where you take them and what they’ll be doing when they vacation with you. Remember that if you’re the last leg of their trip, you may need to schedule several days for shopping. Take your relatives to see the local sights and events like cultural landmarks or fiestas. Check out FlyPhilippines.net for ideas on where to go. However, remember to be flexible—you don’t want to stress them out by booking them solid when all they really want to do is sleep off jet lag.
Introduce them to friends and relatives. Throw them a party. Introduce them to your friends and other people outside their immediate family. This reduces the chances of getting cabin fever from seeing only your relatives for the duration of your trip. Your friends and family will help with conversation, and they may even share in the duties of taking your relations around. More than that, many times your balikbayan relatives will come to visit because they want to get to know you or catch up with you, so if you introduce them to your friends, let them mingle with your acquaintances, and go on mixed-group outings with you and other relatives and friends, they’ll get a better sense of who you are—and make new friends that they may keep even after their trip. With online social networking sites like Facebook, lifetime friendships are just one introduction and a friend request away.
Take them out of town. If having your relatives stay in your house is driving you crazy, get them out. Take them someplace they otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to. Ecotourism is becoming more and more popular—take them snorkeling in a marine sanctuary, bird watching in a nature preserve, hiking up a mountain or volcano, or whitewater rafting on river rapids. They’ll get an action-adventure fix, and our country will get a much-needed tourism boost—everyone wins!
Volunteer. With the worldwide coverage of Typhoon Ondoy’s destruction, many balikbayans are coming to the Philippines wanting to do more than just get some R and R. Ask your guests if they’d like to sign up for a Gawad Kalinga activity and spend a few days donating their skills and time toward home-building projects, or reach out to your local orphanages and ask if they need people to spend time with the children and bring food, toys, clothes, and other goods.
Do things as a family, but don’t demand it. Let’s say you’re a devout church-goer, and you go every Sunday morning at 8:00AM. Ask your relatives if they want to come with you, or work out a time when you can all go if they’re not willing to wake up early on a Sunday. Maybe they won’t even want to go at all—that doesn’t mean you can’t. Don’t force anyone to do anything (they’re on vacation, after all), but don’t force yourself to pass on the things that are important to you. Remember that you can sometimes leave them to their own devices—just give them the information they need or offer to get someone to help them when you’re off doing your own thing.
Hire a temporary yaya for their kids or extra help for you. Remember that your relatives are on vacation. If they live someplace where labor is expensive, like the US or Canada, that means they probably don’t employ nannies or helpers. Treat them to the luxury of not having to help out with the housework (which polite people will offer to do) or not having to go every single place with their kids. If you have kids yourself, recruit your kids as mini-hosts: they can help take care of and entertain the younger kids while the adults do grown-up things.
The holidays are special times when distant relatives “gather near to us,” as that old carol says. Make the most of it by renewing ties family ties and getting to know the newer generations. And, when your patience wears thin, just be thankful that Christmas only comes once a year!
Will you have guests from abroad this Christmas? What problems do you usually encounter with this arrangement? Share your balikbayan horror stories and your tips for staying sane! Leave a comment below or talk it up with other GIRLTalkers on our forum!