Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 27

So I have this Aunt

. . . who is coming to visit and whom I love dearly and who reads this blog religiously and who is hysterical enough to merit her own blog post.

If you are an ex-pat long enough, you will see your fair share of visitors who come in all possible combinations of age, sex, health and family configurations.  In order to be a good host, you, dear ex-pat, should keep a ready list of things to do and see that account for every type of houseguest.

I have my list of things for twentysomethings which includes skiing, giving directions to the Flon which is the club spot in Lausanne and a plan for spending  a night in a yurt.  I have my list of things for couples our age which includes skiing, hiking from Wengen to Klein Scheidegg and walking to Lutry on Sunday morning for brunch.

We haven’t had any visitors yet with small children, but when we do, I have a list ready for them as well which includes skiing, getting lost in the Labyrinth Park near Monthey and eating our way through the  chocolate factory tour in Broc.

I also have a very short list for sixtysomethings from two years ago when my dad and his wife came to visit and I am going to steal liberally from this agenda when my aunt comes in May.  Unfortunately, my dad was only here with me in Switzerland for three days so the list only includes Gruyere and a boat trip to Evian and Yvoire.

My aunt, bless her heart, is in her seventies but she acts like she is in her forties so I am cautiously optimistic about the success of this extended visit.  The best part about Auntie is that she comes as a matching set with Uncle Wade*, (*names have been changed to protect the innocent, although Uncle “Wade” is far from innocent, so I don’t really know why I have bothered to change his name.)   Uncle Wade is, quite possibly, the funniest person on this planet or any other.  His sense of humor is so dry he makes James Bond’s martini envious.  (I hope he steals that line and has it engraved on his headstone.)

I am sure when Uncle Wade was courting Auntie he saw a cute, petite, vivacious and funny little thing that he thought would make the latter half of his life fun, lively and adventurous.  Yeah, he got all that.  And a cup of coffee.  Auntie is like Tinkerbell, wrapped inside a Brillo pad, tucked inside Napoleon’s vest.  Imagine if General Patton and Hello Kitty had a baby.  That’s Auntie.  And, honey, if Auntie were running the world, well, the world would run.  Period.

Unfortunately, Uncle Wade is not coming to Europe.  Not now, not ever.  Which is a shame because he and I have shared many a bonding moment complete with eyerolls when we looked across the room at all of our relatives and sent a mental message to each other that said “We are the only two sane people in the joint.  Let’s just sit back and enjoy the show, shall we?” 

Ain’t no way Uncle Wade was gonna go traipsin’ off to a furrin’ country and hang out with no namby pamby poncey Eurotrash and possibly miss the salmon run in Alaska.  No way in hell, missy.  Jus’ send me a postcard and let’s call it a day.

So, I’m a little nervous.  Auntie is a Planner.  I am not a Planner.  I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person.  Here’s a little hint of why I am nervous:

Fairly Close Reconstruction of our conversation in November, 2012:

Auntie:  I want to come see you.  I’ve never been to Europe and it is a lifelong dream.

Me:  Great!  Is Uncle Wade coming with you?

Auntie:  Oh, for Heaven’s sake, no, of course not.  Have you lost your mind?  He might miss moose season or the premier of Duck Dynasty or something.

Me:  Okay.  When are you thinking of coming?

Auntie:  That’s a good question.  When is the next time you are coming to America?  Because, you see, the thing is, I am, actually, uh, a bit nervous to fly all that way by myself.

Me:  Um, okay.  Well, we are coming to America in December, February and then, I think, May of 2013.

Auntie:  Isn’t it cold there in December and February?

Me (laughing):  Yes, you could say that!  So, you want to fly with us in May when we come back to Switzerland from South Carolina?

Auntie:  Yes!  When do you think you will know the flight number?

Me:  The flight number of what?

Auntie:  The flight number of the plane we will be taking, silly!

Wowza, lady, I don’t even know what continent I’m going to be living on next May and you want to book a flight?  Of course, I didn’t say that because she is my elder, plus I didn’t want her to think that I was a flibberty-gibbet which is a word that I imagine people of her generation call people like me.  Plus I didn’t want to get smacked upside the head with a small handbag.

I held her off until February and then she started to go into Planner Panic.  Planner Panic occurs when a person who is, by nature, a Planner, encounters people like me who are utter bohemians and they start having anxiety attacks.  Three months ahead of time.  Here are the differences in the thought processes:

Bohemian:  Chill, mama.  You will be on a plane.  You will fly to Europe.  I will be with you the entire time.  Well, except for the time when you are in coach and I am in business.  During that time, I will come back and visit you and laugh at your food.  JUST KIDDING, AUNTIE!!!  LOVE YOU!!!  Where was I?  Okay, we will hang out in Switzerland, France and Italy.  It will be awesome and we will drink a lot of wine.  I will send you home, by yourself, and you will have many good memories and many Facebook-worthy pictures of us eating and meandering our way through Europe.

Planner:  I will leave the house at 9:34 Pacific Standard Time.   Uncle Wade will drive me to Sea-Tac and put me on the 12:45 plane to Columbia, South Carolina via Atlanta.  I will choose the pasta option in the air.  Upon landing, I will be met by Trailing Spouse and Mr. Big and we will proceed to their home where we will spend approximately 56 hours.  We will leave for the Charlotte airport at . . .
Well, you get the picture.  It’s not like I don’t have vast experience dealing with a Planner.  I am married to one.  However, over the decades, I have trained his inner Planner self to just go into hiding and go with the flow and it has always come out splendidly.  Well, almost always.  Auntie, on the other hand, is not used to my Bohemian ways and I fear that I will spoil her one and only trip to Europe in her entire life.  This terrifies me.  Too much pressure.  Gah!

In order to circumvent future May pitfalls, I sent Auntie a questionnaire.  Really.  Ask her.  I did.  It was a legit questionnaire with queries like “how many miles can you walk on uneven cobblestones?” and “approximately how many churches/cathedrals would you like to see in a 2 week period?  Ten?  Twenty?  Or some embarrassing number like fifty?” and “if we have to share a hotel room, do you prefer the right or left side?” and “what temperature in said hotel room would you say is ideal?  Warm?  Hot?  Or so hot we could steam dim sum on the radiator?”  Hey, you never know, right?  I was just trying to cover all my bases.

She was a really good sport and she answered my questions truthfully so I now have a much better grasp of what she wants to see and do.  Here is an example of her Definite Must Sees and her Possibly, If There Is Time Can We Please Sees:  (keep in mind she will be here for fourteen days):

Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Paris, Every City in Switzerland, St. Petersburg, Prague, Copenhagen, Tuscany, Provence, both the Italian and French Rivieras and every small, charming village in Europe while not ruling out a side trip to the UK.  And Ireland.

Auntie has the same problem many, many Americans have when coming to Europe.  They look at a world map and they compare the size of Europe to the size of America and they think, “jeez, that whole continent fits inside Ohio.  We can see the whole thing in like, a week.  Maybe even 5 days if we drive fast enough and don’t dawdle.”  What they don’t understand is that there is a little thing called the Alps that runs smack dab through the middle of the continent which inhibits travel.  A voyager must take into account all of the VERTICAL miles as well as horizontal miles.  That’s why it takes 5 hours to drive to Milan and Milan is only like twelve miles away.

Americans also don’t understand the difficulties of a highway system where the biggest road in an entire country has only two or three lanes going in each direction.  Usually only two.  Lastly, Auntie, I am sure, does not have a good grip on the limitations of my vehicle.

I have a Land Rover Defender which I use strictly to get around in the snow.  It’s not really a highway vehicle.  It’s certainly not a city vehicle.  It doesn’t go very fast and it is neither pretty nor comfortable but it will plow through two feet of snow like nobody’s business.  It is sort of like a Sherman tank but without as many cupholders.  Therefore, Auntie and I will probably be training to the majority of the spots on her Wish List and then taking various metro systems and bus routes.  I am nervous about this because I am trying to picture my aunt, the Planner, in the bowels of the Paris metro system where the only thing one can plan on is mayhem.

I am seriously thinking of getting her one of those harness/leash things so I don’t lose her.  I’m pretty sure Uncle Wade would never forgive me if I lost his wife.

Me:  Uncle Wade, I lost your wife.  One minute we were boarding the water taxi in Venice and when I turned around, she’d gone missing.

Wade:  Does she have her Venice guide book with her?

Me:  I’m quite certain that she has 7 or 8 guide books on her person as we speak.  She left a few in the hotel room that I told her she wouldn’t need today, like the Istanbul one, for example.

Wade:  Go online and see what the Venice guide book says about “What to do if you get lost or if you lose another person” and then just do whatever the book says because you can be durned sure that that is what she is going to do.

Me:  So you think she will just be hanging out at the American Consulate then, huh?

Wade:  Bet on it, missy.  She’s probably reorganized their filing system by now and made them all place Mary Kay cosmetic orders.  There’s potential here for an international incident so you best hurry.

Me:  I’m on it.

Well, I was going to continue this blog post because there’s much more to cover but I’ve just received an email from Auntie telling me that she hopes that all of the seats that I booked for her on her various flights are aisle seats.  Apparently, this is a crucial question that I left off of my informal questionnaire and I had Mr. Big book all window seats.  DON’T TELL HER!!  I will have this little issue fixed before she ever even knows about it!  Gah!  Gotta go!


  1. We expats should have a board specifying good things for the ages to do while they are here. I am usually wracking my brain trying to come up with things.

  2. OMG, I love the way you write or type... Its extremely funny too read. Hope your Auntie didn't get lost. :)

  3. Thank you! I can sympathize with much you have experienced, I wish I had your skills in English to make them seem so easy to overcome. Regards to Mr Big!