You might have followed our advice in the last lesson and met your exchange family. This doesn’t mean they welcomed you to their home. Maybe the meeting took place chez vous or at the airport. Let’s assume you’ve arrived at your exchange residence. Unfortunately there is nobody to show you around. How do you make yourself at home there?
The first step is to take a tour of the place, inside and out. Check out key items such as the bicycles and the car. Many cars, ours included, bear minor scars. Note any damage to the car and take a photo if it is serious. It is always embarrassing to notice dents after you’ve been driving their vehicle for a few weeks. We have discovered problems with the bicycles such as a flat tire, warped wheel, loose handlebar, etc. Verify the bikes are safe to ride before you go down the steep driveway to discover the brakes don’t work. Yes, this did happen to me.
Read their instruction manual again and start using equipment such as the TV, telephone, computer, and stereo system. You are going to be living here for several days to several weeks, now is the time to discover you can’t figure out how the TV Satellite receiver works. Better to get the confusion resolved early so you can enjoy the rest of your vacation without distraction from problems.
They should have left tourist information and maps for your use. Go through these to get ideas as to what is there and what might be of interest. Visit the local tourist office to get additional information.
Check out the food supply in the refrigerator and panty. Determine how much space there is for you in the freezer. Verify the location and presence of staples such as toilet paper, paper towels, plastic wrap, etc. This will make your shopping more efficient. When looking at expiration dates on food remember that 10/1/2010 is October 1st in the USA but January 10th in Europe.
You may be disappointed in certain features, furnishings, or details of their home. Assuming they haven’t lied or deceived you try to be generous and understanding. You may have assumed the TV would be a large flat screen with 200 channels instead of an aging box with five over the air channels. In France I felt really bad that my wife couldn’t watch Wimbledon but was comforted by lots of soccer and bicycle racing.
In England we were astonished to encounter a kitchen in a 200 year old home that had last been modernized in the 1930’s. This was annoying. On the other hand the living room and master bedroom and bath had just been remodeled and were fabulous. The car was brand new. The bicycles were of high quality, in top shape, and fit our family. In this home the positive surprises outweighed the negative discoveries.
We always ask our exchange partners to provide friends, neighbors, or relatives who will meet with us. These kind folks can answer questions and be a resource. They might invite you for dinner, take you for a boat ride or show you the local festival. You should contact these generous souls at the beginning of the exchange, when you have the most to gain from them. Once in France I enjoyed a friendly drink and discussion with the neighbor. He asked me how much longer I would be staying. I was embarrassed because it was our last day and we had been there for five weeks.
Next time we will provide a few tips for your house swap vacation.