Sharing holiday accommodation when you’re a people-pleaser can be exhausting, as Jo Turner recently discovered.
I can get on with most people. I try to attribute this to being a physiotherapist, where it helps if you’re good at quickly establishing relationships.
The reality is that I am an insufferable people-pleaser with a very British ego, one that shrivels at the mere thought of having offended someone and can access 97 phrases for expressing apology.
Sharing holiday accommodation is therefore fraught with potential disaster, particularly where foreigners are involved. Our recent family trip to Italy, although wonderful in many ways, required cross-cultural and group interaction in two different venues.
Having settled into our first apartment, we went down to the communal gardens, where my kids declined to enter the small but delightful pool on the grounds that it already contained children of two different nationalities, who were all playing and conversing happily.
Their feigned nonchalance – “We only came down to sit and admire the garden” – was undermined by full swimming attire and snorkel kit which they were actually breathing through like hostile mini-Vaders, and the fact that their horticultural interests are thus far restricted to watching Gardeners’ World as a bedtime-avoidance strategy.
I told them through gritted teeth that they were embarrassing and lied that if it were me I would be making friends with the other children, who were no doubt keen to practise their English. My daughter announced that she was going back to our room but as she passed the other kids’ parents, they wrong-footed her by asking her where she was from.
“England,” she whispered and was rewarded with guffaws and references to Brexit. Thanks Nigel; literally EVERYONE hates us.
During our next foray into the garden I stumbled across the same group of parents, apparently discussing back pain issues. Seizing the olive branch that hadn’t strictly been offered, I engaged my full physio arsenal, delivering exercise and back care management tips with sign language.
Weird but effective and, I like to think, the turning point for improved relations which saw my son relaxing rooftop surveillance of the garden and my daughter lifting sanctions, ultimately granting unrestricted usage of her inflatable ring to all guests, regardless of nationality.
For the second week of our holiday we moved into the countryside to an idyllic set of five villas, based in a farmhouse and its surrounding buildings. Through a process of numberplate observation and an ear attuned to accents and inflections I was quickly able to establish that we were sharing our accommodation with a mixture of Dutch, French and English families.
“‘England,’ she whispered and was rewarded with guffaws and references to Brexit. Thanks Nigel; literally EVERYONE hates us.”
At the poolside, once again the make-or-break centre for international relations, I tested the literal and proverbial waters with a few well-versed techniques: the ‘Ooh, this is a bit parky’ face when entering the pool and chuckling indulgently at the antics of other guests’ children, especially effective if they are behaving badly as it instantly establishes you as laid-back, tolerant and definitely not a Eurosceptic.
My efforts elicited disconcertingly lukewarm responses and offered little opportunity for second-tier lines of enquiry. Talks were effectively brought to a standstill and my children were overjoyed. After further and ultimately fruitless ventures I had to admit defeat.
My husband made the accurate observation that we were sharing with people who were clearly quite happy with their own company and, given the choice, would likely be in their own private villa, not having to endure my well-meant but probably quite annoying attempts at bridge-building (he didn’t say that last bit ‘cos he’s a nice person, but I knew what he meant).
While obviously crushing, all this was somewhat of a revelation. With the realisation that none of our fellow guests actually gave a monkeys’ where we are from, how old our children were or any other instantly forgettable titbits of information, I started to entertain the idea that perhaps I could switch off, maybe relax a bit?
After a tentative start I got quite into it. My physio persona was dispatched back to Blighty, my ego got wasted on cocktails, slept late and was no longer a bother to anyone, and I enjoyed the company of my favourite three people in the world, the ones with whom I happily and regularly get to share accommodation.
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Jo Turner is a physiotherapist and co-carer for Will, Flo and Spigget the springer. She's also a budding author and aspiring (winning, naturally) Strictly contestant.