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.

Things to do instead of writing

1. Wake up, check emails, eat breakfast. At 11 p.m. deliver translation to client. Spend the next three hours working on various writing projects without actually writing. 

2. Watch Neighbors. Consider adding Zac Efron to your Laminated Celebrity List. Decide against it, since you only have five spots and three are already taken by Ryan Gosling. 

3. Consider working out. Don’t work out. Go for a coffee with a friend instead and talk about wanting to work out.

4. Read post on random site about automatically translated Chinese signs into English. Laugh at the absurd yet somehow eerily creative turns of phrase. Add post to list with links to send to future clients when they claim translation is a monkey’s job when you demand to get paid for it.

5. Watch World Cup and pray for Greece to win. After Greece wins, spend the next hour reminiscing about the 2004 European Championship. Realize it’s been 10 years since you partied on the streets of Corfu that heavenly summer. Feel very old. Make sure to apply moisturizer after washing face before going to sleep tonight.

Picture by Sonja Langford

6. Watch John Green’s interview at the Colbert Report. Giggle when Stephen Colbert says that “A Young Adult Novel Is a Regular Novel That People Actually Read“.

7. Fantasize about writing a “Fault in Our Starts”-meets-“The Perks of being a Wallflower”-meets-“High Fidelity”-meets-“To kill a Mockingbird”-hybrid-uber-novel. Remind yourself that plan requires you to actually sit down and write. Postpone said writing to a non-yet-determined future point in time.

8. Finish day by writing a blog post about the various ways to procrastinate on any given day. Go to bed feeling very accomplished.


8 Things I would’ve told my teenage self

Being a teenager isn’t easy. Hell, it sucks most of the time. If it didn’t for you, then you probably shouldn’t read further.

I was an awkward, insecure, uber-sensitive girl, who daydreamed most of the time and had a knack for getting pushed around even by the family dog.

Sure I had some good times. Everyone does. But I was mostly plagued by thoughts of worthlessness and by the time I was 17 I couldn’t wait for highschool to end.

I would gladly forget many things about my teenage years, but I made sure this would never happen. Like most creative girls with no internet access I did the one thing that helped me keep my sanity back in the 90s: I kept diaries. As in plural. As in I have recounted every incident of my early years on this earth with the kind of detail that would make an anthropologist studuying the psychology of pubescent girls, pee a little in his pants from joy.

To make things worse, I decided to dust off all those notebooks of excruciatingly detailed teen angst and read them during a short stay at my parents’ house last week.

While I read I wished I could take that girl by the hand and tell her some things that would hopefully make her life less, well … crappy is what I’m going for.

And despite the fact these are the things I would tell my teenage self back in 1997, I’m pretty sure they still apply today, in the age of social stalking networks, instant access to all kinds of information and, let’s not forget everyone’s favorite: gluten demonization.


1. 99.9 % of the things that happen in high-school don’t matter!

You know that girl who called you four-eyes back in the 7th grade?

Or the boy that found your Always pads in your backpack and flaunted them like some extra-terrestrial object in front of the whole classroom that then laughed at the fact that OMG! You’re a girl?

I know they suck balls but trust me: They all don’t matter. Sure you’ll remember them, but they will no longer mean anything to you by the time you’re 22.

(This asssuming you’re not like Susie “Underpants” Moss in “The One after the SuperBowl”, in which case, forget what I said. They deserve to be left naked, wearing a pink thong in a restaurant restroom).


2. A friend doesn’t treat you like crap.

If someone treats you like a stinky piece of poo THEY ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND.

That includes supressing you, talking to you like condescending assholes, telling you to “tone-down” your character because it doesn’t suit their image, taking you for granted, lying to you, forgetting about you whenever it suits them… Ring any bells?


3. Confidence doesn’t come from wearing the right clothes or knowing the right people.

It doesn’t come from having a buttload of money or a boyfriend. It comes from (and I throw up a little in my mouth at how corny this sounds – but it’s true), wait for it…


Trust who you are. Trust in what makes you unique and embrace the hell out of that shit!

You can have all the money in the world, date the hottest guy in school, know all the cool people and still be plagued by more insecurities than a plastic surgery addicted Hollywood starlet, who prefers to pretend she’s other people because being herself is too damn hard.


 4. You will NOT always feel so damn alone

(Assuming you take into consideration points 2. and 3.)

As soon as you start respecting and accepting yourself, you’ll meet people who will appreciate you for all the things that make you, you. Those are the friends you want to hold on to (and those are the ones you should actually befriend while in highschool — they are there, you just need to open your eyes).


5. Assholes are gluten-free versions of REAL MEN.

(replace “asshole” with “bitch” if you’re a “he”)

You know the guy when you were 19 that ripped your heart out, took a dump on it and then lit it on fire?

Yes, well, he was an asshole.  Don’t dwell too much on it. Some people can’t help the fact they’re assholes. Everyone is destined to meet (and probably fall for) at least one such specimen of the male conviction in their lives.

Think of it this way: Falling for an asshole is like eating the really awful gluten-free products wrapped up in a nice package to convince you they’re are actually good for you, and then tasting the awesomeness that is REAL pasta and REAL bread. You learn to appreciate the good stuff so much more.

That’s what that asshole was. A gluten (i.e. heart)-free version of a human being. My advice: As soon as you reach your minimum asshole quota for a lifetime, get on with your life and open your eyes to the good ones. They’ re out there… (cue X-Files theme music).


6. Don’t WORRY So much!

Seriously. The universe won’t come crushing down if you get a D in Chemistry. (I know scientists who have confirmed this). You will be fine.

There’s people who’ve made a life for themselves without acing every single test in their highschool lives. Education is important, no doubt about it. Study if that’s what you know you need to do to accomplish your goals, but don’t drive yourself crazy over it. You’re a kid, act like it. Which brings me to my next point:


7. To hell with all those who make you feel bad for being a KID!

Christmas was, and still is, one of my favorite times of the year. When I was a kid, it was a custom in Greece for children to go from door to door and sing traditional Greek Christmas carols. In return people gave them money or sweets. When at the sweet age of 15 I went to sing Christmas carols with a friend, I got laughed at in the face by another “friend” for being such a “baby”. S*** THAT! I can’t stress it enough: Your childhood is the only time in your life you get to be a kid. You can be an adult for the rest of your (hopefully) looooooong life.

Don’t try to act all grown-up because acting your age isn’t cool. That’s bullshit.

You want to build a Death Star mock-up? DO IT!

You want to sing loud and dance and enjoy yourself at a party? DO IT.

You want to play at the swings? DO IT.


8. Family isn’t uncool (at least not as much as you think they are)

I know you would rather be caught dead than be seen with, or spend more time than absolutely necessary, with your parents. I get it. It’s okay you’d rather spend every waking hour with your friends. They go through the same stuff you do and get you in ways your parents don’t.

Just remember to hug the poor bastards that do everything for you every once in a while and be kind when you can actually reign the crazy in. Those moments don’t last long, so take advantage of them when they do.

Your family is there when no one else is. Appreciate them for the fact they love you the way you are.


I could go on and on and on with this list but I think I’ve made my point.

Being a teen is like being a work-in-progress. There’s so much potential. Don’t let it get muffled up by the white noise other people create around you.

You will be fine.


Here’s proof: