We’ve all heard Benjamin Franklin’s expression that guests are like fish – they start to stink after three days, but there are plenty of ways to spread the festive cheer for the happiest of holidays with the help of our five fun but essential tips, says Karen Pasquali Jones
The tree is looking its festive best, the Christmas day menu is all worked out, and the presents are bought, ethically wrapped and ready to be distributed on Christmas Day. There’s just one thing missing from the UAE’s traditional festive countdown – the last-minute drive to the airport to pick up the hordes of loved ones descending on you for the holidays.
Whether it’s your parents, siblings, best friends – or all of them – landing for a Christmas in the sun, they’re sure to bring a little bit more than just some festive cheer with them. Flinging your doors open to guests, and entertaining them during your time off, can be stressful no matter how close you all are. As Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, said: ‘Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days’ and he wasn’t talking about body odour.
It’s hard being a host, but it’s difficult being a guest too. They have to face agonising dilemmas such as should they ask before using all of your Neal’s Yard Remedies Chamomile and Aloe Vera after sun, or glugging all that duty free they bought you as a present?
What can you do? Wish they were dead, say plenty of experts (really!) which allegedly works because you imagine what you would say or do if you only had one Christmas left with them – and then act it out. Or you can follow our five fun but useful tips in our ultimate guide to surviving Christmas guests and there’ll still be plenty of festive cheer and peace on earth (at least in your apartment or villa) at the end of the holidays.
Establish Ground Rules
It might be the first time that cousin Annie has visited the UAE and no doubt she wants to go up the Burj Khalifa, sail down the Creek, head out to the dunes and explore the Gold Souk but you’ve already shown guests the sights eight times already this year.
It may be the festive season, but this is your precious time off too, so establish some ground rules early on. ‘Living in Dubai is exciting – not just for you but for all your family and friends,’ says Linda, 28, a British PR who lives in the Marina. ‘They get a ready-made holiday in the sun with free accommodation thrown in. Sure, they want to see you, but the fact that you live in one of the best hotspots in the world certainly adds to the allure.’
Most of us expats have visitors all year round, but Christmas can put an added strain on your time and your wallet. ‘My mum loves the glitz of Dubai, and dressing up to go for brunches,’ Linda says. ‘But I always treat her and Dad so they have no idea how much they cost. Christmas brunch comes in at more than AED 500 each, so paying for the four of us is already expensive, plus I will have to fork out for presents too.’
Cut down on the expense by putting a limit on presents – or even suggest a funny ‘Secret Santa’ gift idea with a maximum AED 50 spending limit so no one has to blow the budget.
And if you’d treated everyone to brunch tell them that’s their present – or, if you haven’t booked yet, tell them that’s the plan and ask for them to contribute towards the cost.
Maid in The UAE
Guests descend from all corners of the globe just as the live-in maid flies out for her festive holiday. Suddenly our usually spotless villa is in chaos – how does that washing-machine work? – and the children are demanding chicken and rice just the way Jocelyn makes it.
Add into the mix that your brother and his new wife want you to take them to the mall, and your parents expect you to entertain them by the pool once you’re back, while there’s no food in the house, and no one but you to cook it, and it’s beginning to look, well, a lot like a terrible Christmas.
Remember, this is your holiday too. ‘Don’t let guests walk all over you,’ says Janice, an HR director from Jumeirah. ‘It is exhausting to run around after them and put your own life on hold. Make sure everyone knows they have to contribute – you’re not going to make their bed, and pick up the towels in their ensuite, too.
‘Plan every meal and ask everyone to do their bit. Everyone can pitch in to help with cooking, laying the table, and loading the dishwasher. That way you won’t end up resenting them or in bed by 8pm every night to escape them and their demands. They are staying in your home, not in a hotel.’
Make sure you factor in fun time – for yourself as well as everyone else. If your parents are here for the whole of the festive holidays, they can spread some love to their grandchildren by babysitting so you can have a night out. After all, it is just once a year.
Yes, it’s Christmas and you’ve seen so many new recipes that all look amazing but now is not the time to try them out on your guests.
It’s stress you don’t need, could easily go wrong and might end up being a Christmas turkey of a dinner – even if you were only making a nut roast.
Cook tried and tested recipes – the more basic the better. ‘It’s so hot, I think salad would be amazing,’ is a fail-safe idea. Toss in some avocado and walnuts for some festive flavour.
Forget anything fancy. Cooked breakfast? Stick to cereal – making it clear that the organic puffs are off limits as you and the kids love them. And a quick trip to the deli for lunch could be a cultural excursion as you show your guests the melting pot of cuisine in the UAE – from hummus to samosas, there’s plenty of (pre-made) delights for everyone.
Even better, allow your guests to take it in turns to cook their favourite dish while you relax.
Botox? Simply Smile
It might be drastic, but people who can’t frown because they’ve had Botox are, on average, three times happier than people who can. If you don’t want to get rat poison injected into your face to paralyse your forehead muscles – and let’s face it, who would? – then simply smile for the same effect.
Flexing the zygomatic major controls the corners of your mouth – making you smile – while laughing pulls a muscle at the orbicularis oculi, which tells your brain that you are happy, researchers at the University of Cardiff in Wales discovered. So fake it until you make it by pretending to smile at your dad’s naff jokes, or that terrible festive film your sister insists is a ‘family tradition’ and pretty soon you’ll actually be giggling and happy.
Don’t Let Me Entertain You
You are the host, but that doesn’t mean you’re the non-stop entertainer or headline act. Keep that up and you’ll burn out quickly. Instead, make it clear – preferably before they even board the plane at Heathrown or Delhi – that your guests are responsible for their own itinerary. If they want to go to the beach, point them in the right direction, and explain where they can catch a cab or the tram. If they fancy exploring the city, make a list of the must-see attractions, and write down your mobile in case they get lost.
Invest in a copy of The Entertainer to get discounts on the most popular tourist sights, and if you’re desperate for an evening off, book up a desert safari. While your guests are speeding through the sand dunes, having Henna tattoos, and camel riding, you can sit back and relax.
Remember one thing: take lots of photographs while your loved ones are here – you know you’ll miss them once they’re gone and 7,165 kms away.