Handling Visitors Abroad Is Not Easy

I realize it comes across as silly and self-involved and absurdly indulgent to write about the concerns that come with my parents flying across the world to visit me in Denmark. What concerns? There should be none! Alas.

It is a private concern, one that involves an erasure of intimacy in favor of re-introducing artifice. At this stage of my stay in Denmark, I am more or less entrenched. I have developed habits. There are places I frequent, where my English is no longer a tourist’s currency to food or drink, but a welcome, daily back-and-forth. I have grooved myself intellectually, no longer weathering the mental, morning buckshot but waking to a schedule and a purpose and a plan (somewhat). I know where to go to see and review films, and I have found (and subsequently had to cut off my purchases from) favorite bookstores. I have located appropriate bathroom facilities.

When my parents come, I will climb out of my habituation and sit once again on the tourist’s frozen sea, pecking at culture with the blunt tool of an outsider. Things will be in a state of objects in the air instead of objects fallen and settled, on the ground. This is not to say I am now a Dane; the gap remains a chasm. I have merely become accustomed to my life here and dread being brought back up to the surface again, especially remembering how painful and alien I seemed to myself and the city those first few weeks here. The prospect is one of private life made public again, existence stripped of practiced nuance and cast into the sky as a star to be gaped at, one among the bright constellation of outsiders.

I am looking forward to my parents’ visit to Denmark, as much as it sounds like I may not be, if only because FaceTime and IMessage are obscure approximations of real company. Those conversations, more often than not, sap the vitality from my voice as soon as the other end answers, because it’s an implicit expectation with everyone I talk to, not just my parents, that I spew an engaging, anecdotal bulletin of my life abroad. I never come through. It’s always a tortuous exercise in trying to conjure a halfway interesting anecdote, then having some banal reaction on the other end because no one really likes hearing about your great experiences over the phone. It distills into a lot of empty adjectives and phrases like “awesome,” “great” and “so cool.” And that’s fine. It is expected and it is no one’s fault. But I look forward to my family’s company because the organic conversations we have, cracking jokes, telling real stories, could take place anywhere, and I have missed them. Denmark just happens to be the host at present.

What else? The expectations of being the consummate tour guide, the pressure of being the idiosyncratic host with a million hole-in-the-wall everythings and historical erudition lateral to Ron Chernow. I will disappoint, and I’ve tried to lay that groundwork. “We will be bored,” I’ve repeated several times, which is code for I don’t know as much as you expect, and I also am not all that excited to put on tourist’s clothing again. Let me also be clear: my parents do not really care, I do.

But the more we try to calculate experiences in order to make them great, the worse they usually are, and paradoxically I am trying to think of the greatest places to take my family, while negating the very thoughts themselves in the name of organic experience. All of this will fail, and all the planning I do, whether it is orthodox hand-holding or anti-planning, will fall short. This over-thinking will evaporate like breath on a mirror once we see each other. But the buildup is always the worst part. It’ll be a great visit, if only for the company. The event itself, the nerves before going on stage, usually disappear once the lights go up. Usually.