It’s that time of year again, when friends and family decide to descend on their relatives in Oman. Tina Squires offers her top tips for surviving the invasion and ensuring that everybody has a good time.
Chances are that living in this wonderful country, with kilometres of long white beaches, picturesque fishing villages, exquisite mosques, breathtaking coastline, stunning mountains, beautiful deserts and all-year-round sunshine, you occasionally find yourself knee-deep in houseguest season.
An attractive location and good weather are two key factors when deciding on a holiday venue for most people – and if we add to that the bonus of a friend or relative living in said location – that translates to a sure-fire great holiday for many of our friends and relatives living in other parts of the world.
As most of us expats have left friends and family in our home countries to come and live in Oman, having visitors also allows us to re-connect with our roots and spend valuable moments with people we care about. Sharing our home allows us to spend true quality time together in a comfortable environment, and that’s worth treasuring.
Some of my fondest memories since my time in Oman have come from having houseguests. My family and I love the conviviality, the constant chatter and showing our friends and family this wonderful country that we call home. The kids love playing in the pool with our guests, looking for sand dollars and crabs on Azaiba beach and the excitement that comes with taking visitors to Wadi Shab for a trek and a swim in truly stunning surroundings. In principle of course, most of us are all for an open-door policy. I certainly love the idea of running a warm and inviting house, a jolly destination of warmth and friendship. But often the idea is very different from the reality.
Benjamin Franklin once famously said that houseguests, like fish, begin to smell after three days and while we don’t want to, many of us are inclined to agree. At the heart of the matter is that houseguests temporarily set up their personal shop in another person’s territory. For most of us, this territory is a secure environment, where we as the householders have total control over the way we run our lives. Step forward the houseguest, an occasionally charming and entertaining figure who, unwittingly, adds stress to our lives to the extent that they disrupt our routines and the high levels of control that we normally enjoy in this personal territory.
Unless our guests are visiting during school holidays, I’m normally on the school run at 6.40am, coming back to entertain our younger visitors who don’t enjoy lie-ins, making breakfast for our guests, walking the dogs, grabbing a quick shower, taking them to Muttrah/dolphin watching/Grand Mosque, running back to school for the school run at 2pm, going back to Muttrah/the Marina/Grand Mosque to pick up our visitors and possibly take them to the next tourist hotspot, dropping into Al Fair (daily) to replace milk and bread, going home to make dinner for everyone and then staying up until midnight entertaining and attempting to be the perfect host. And the next day, we go through the same routine. At the end of the week, I’m a wreck.
My children and I have done a rough tot up, and we reckon that in our six years in the Middle East, we’ve had about 50 sets of visitors. Some of these are repeat visitors such as parents and siblings, others are entire families and some are lone visitors such as a girlfriend desperate for a week in the sun, or a friend on a business trip. Through experience and practice, I’ve come up with steps to ensure our time hosting family and friends is sweet and not the “fishy” experience that Benjamin Franklin referred to, and as a result we’ve had some incredibly happy times with every guest who has stepped through our door.
1. Remember that you are not their personal tour operator
Most likely, your friends or family are staying with you because they want to spend time with you. Don’t make plans for every second they’re with you. Leave lots of time for chilling, and if you’re planning a long day out, leave the next day for relaxing. And remember that if they’re coming from a cooler climate, they’ll be looking for some time in the sun as well.
2. Ask in advance about food preferences and allergies.
An obvious one but it saves so much time and effort if you know in advance that little Johnny is gluten-intolerant. As you’ll be shopping in advance of them arriving, ask if there are any particular things they like to eat. I also like to freeze a few meals so after a long day out, we have a meal ready to eat.
3. Display your Wi-Fi password prominently.
Need I say more? A 21st-century requirement nowadays. Stick it on the fridge or somewhere obvious as you’ll be asked about this 100 times during their stay.
4. Show guests where your cutlery, crockery and glasses are – together with tea and coffee
If your guests are able to, show them where you keep the items they’ll need to get breakfast or a snack for themselves. They’ll also appreciate the ability to be independent, and you won’t have to wait on them on hand and on foot. Most importantly for me as a Brit, show them where the tea and coffee are so they can make their own (and, occasionally, yours)!
5. Accept the offer of help!
If someone offers to lay the table or clear away the dishes, take up the offer of help! Don’t feel you have to do it all yourself. Ask the kids to get involved as well – they can fill a water jug or bring in the glasses.
You’ll need it, and your guests will want some privacy too. If they want to read a book or watch some TV, don’t feel you have to fill that space with an activity, a walk or a chat. And ensure that you have your own opportunities to rest and retreat as well.
7. Communicate your schedule to your guests
Let your guests know what your commitments are during their time with you. If you’re working, or doing the school run, let them know roughly when you’ll be busy, and allow them to plan their own activities. Give them a few recommended taxi numbers, or offer to hire them a car. It’s thoughtful to accommodate our visitors but we don’t need to move heaven and earth, especially when some plans can’t be changed. Guests will be more than understanding and accommodating.
8. Prepare your home in advance
In addition to planning a welcoming space, get your home ready to avoid anxiety and distraction. You want to be able to sit down and enjoy your guests, not feel flustered because your fridge is empty or you’re running out of toilet paper. Hosting visitors can be a demanding but highly rewarding experience for you and your family. By ensuring you and your home are ready before your guests step through the door, you set yourself up for an enjoyable time for everyone involved. Savour the sweetness of showing hospitality – after all, that is what Oman is renowned for!
Everybody has their favourite places to visit in Oman, from secluded beaches to out-of-the-way wadis and even the best place to try the country’s famous karak tea or shuwa. These are our best-kept secrets and helping our houseguests to experience Oman in all its quintessential beauty only serves to make their visit that much more memorable.
A recent survey by Omela milk has revealed the top 10 “symbols” of Oman. As expected, there were quite a few destinations included in the top 10 list, such as Wadi Shab, Nizwa Fort and Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. But because this survey was about our national treasures, respondents also named karak tea, the renowned spiced Omani milk tea, and harees laham (lamb with wheat in cow ghee) and shuwa (spiced slow-roasted meat wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an earth oven over charcoal) as worthy inclusions in the list.
The survey was part of Omela’s “I Love Oman” campaign, in which it surveyed thousands of Omanis to give them an opportunity to vote on a selection of destinations and activities as part of the Sultantate’s 46th National Day celebrations last month.
“From areas of natural beauty to historical monuments and traditional food to outdoor adventure, their responses not only highlighted the diversity of the country, but also showcased the lust for life of its proud nationals,” says Hein Raijmakers, the marketing director for the Omela brand.
“It is fantastic to see Oman’s rich cultural heritage, diverse natural wonders and its outstanding achievements in art and architecture all represented in this list of national treasures.”
Wadi Shab – a picturesque canyon with caves, waterfalls and pools. A must-see for all visitors to the Sultanate.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque – Oman’s central mosque is a beautiful piece of modern Islamic architecture. The mosque was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark the 30th year of his reign.
Omani Fjords – The breathtakingly beautiful khors, as they are known locally, which lie among the stunning Musandam peninsula.
Harees Laham – lamb with wheat in cow ghee; and Shuwa, slow-roasted meat strongly spiced, wrapped in banana leaves and laid in an earth oven over charcoal.
Spiced Omani Milk Tea – a traditional chai karak recipe from Oman which is served hot and made with sweetened condensed milk, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon.
Nizwa Fort and Jabrin Fort – Oman’s most visited monuments. Built in the 17th century, these forts are examples of Omani’s rich heritage. Jabrin Fort during its heyday was an important centre of learning for astrology, medicine and Islamic law.
Jebel Akhdar – one of Oman’s most spectacular areas within Al Hajar Mountain range, known for its greenery and agriculture, as well as Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun), the highest mountain in the country that rises up to 3,000 metres in the sky. It is a popular sightseeing area.
Turtle Hatching – watching the turtles’ night dash to the sea at Turtle Beach in Ras Al Hadd is among the most popular outdoor activities in Oman, more so as the Sultanate is home to five out of the seven species of sea turtles in the world.
Dolphin watching – a must-do experience for visitors in a traditional Omani dhow.
Royal Opera House Muscat – Oman’s premier venue for music and culture, ROHM was officially opened in 2011 and has played host to some of the world’s most famous opera stars, ballet companies and orchestras.