How to survive an intercultural family vacation

My husband and I live far away from our respective homelands. Almost 2,000 km away.

Germany somehow “happened” for both of us. We never intended on setting up camp here. We were both passing by on our way to other countries, jobs, friends and mispronounciation incidents. It was a stop on an itinirary we hadn’t planned out, but instead it became a starting-point.

Being this far away from our family and friends, means we have to divide our shared free time between three or more countries every year. The logistics of this can be daunting and so we have introduced what I like to call the “inter-European meetup”, which includes at least four family members who don’t speak each others’ language, vast amounts of alcohol, creative body language, moments of panic upon the realization my father has gone missing … again, and the invention of several new words.

We are about to embark on another such trip, this time in beautiful Spain. I’m very excited about this reunion, mostly because this time I bring with me the experience I gathered during the previous two, which boils down to these survival points:

Make a plan

One of the hardest things to manage in an intercultural family trip, is everyone’s personal tastes and opinions voiced at the same time in three different languages.

I’m lucky enough to be married to someone who loves making plans, organizing trips and has a very close relationship to Excel. After we sat down together and decided what we wanted to do and see during our stay in Spain, we consulted with his family there and made a detailed plan (with timetables and everything) and sent it to all parties involved: cousins, siblings, parents and friends who tag along for the ride (I call these people “masochists”).

The less room for discussion you leave, the less arguments will likely arise during the journey.

Take someone with you as a buffer

This could be a sibling/friend who can communicate with everyone else in any way possible (hand-gestures, smoke signs, an invented language) or someone who is willing to distract aforementioned family members, long enough for you to regather your thoughts, take a bathroom break or steal a minute of peaceful silence in a dark, safe corner.

Take a break

Approx. 3 hours into the first visit of both our families in Germany three years ago, I felt like my head was about to explode. There is reason I never applied for the simultaneous interpreting master’s degreee at university, but somehow life decided I was apt to take on such a challenge.

So here I was, talking to two or more people at the same time, all posing questions, asking me to translate a joke, or just wondering where the coffee mugs in my kitchen were. I realized then, that time-outs are a must for my sanity.

Our parents got along perfectly last summer in Greece, when we went to a small seaside tavern and my husband and I opted for sitting at a different table after we realized there wasn’t enough space for everyone at one place. They laughed, sang and danced, without us interpreting everything for them all the time.

This time we decided to take this a step further: the hubby and I have arranged an entire (!) afternoon/evening just for the two of us at a music festival in Bilbao. Suffice to say, I am psyched at the idea of just listening to music for several hours. Oh, the joy…

Remember to enjoy yourself

No matter how stressful such holiday trips might be, I always look forward to them. There is nothing like uniting two families who live on different sides of a continent, bonded by the sheer coincidence of their children having met in a foreign country at the right time and fallen in love.

We are lucky enough to have families who get along splendidly, despite cultural, linguistic and age differences. I love the mess, the laughs and adventures we get into when we’re together.

My father now has his own song. It’s called “¿Dónde está Nico?” and was inspired by his constant deviation from our approved itinerary, in order to take the “scenic route” to our destination.

We all now know that “Vale” means both “enough” in Spanish AND “pour” in Greek, after witnessing the panicked look on my father-in-law’s face when my father almost overflowed his wine glass, obviously following instructions to pour some more.

We no longer discuss whether Spain or Greece has better beaches, but instead enjoy the different landscapes when we are in each country (always knowing that Greece is the obvious winner in the debate).

So, until I’m back I wish all my American friends a happy 4th of July, all my German friends another win at the World cup next week and all my other friends a wonderful weekend, no matter where they are.

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