Top 4 Tips on How to Traumatize Your Parents When They Come to Visit You

I’d call myself the prodigal daughter except I have yet to return home after my years away in the wilderness.

Every year, with irregular clockwork, my kind, brave parents gird their loins, apply for visas, book astronomically priced red-eye flights and come to see me. I repay their loving parental support by allowing these visits to degenerate into chaos, danger, discomfort, illness and exhaustion.

Sometimes I think that these visits devolve into madness and confused terror because I’m generally as integrated into my home abroad as a fish is in helium: the language, the unwritten cultural rules, the subtleties of traffic regulations generally evade me and I spend most of my life flailing about, hoping to not screw up too badly or to get anyone killed. I’m going down ignominiously and I’m very obviously taking them with me.

That said, I’m not the only one who can seriously traumatize their parents when they come to visit you abroad!

You can too with my simple yet effective list of hints and tips!




Top 4 Tips on How to Traumatize Your Parents When They Come to Visit You!

Maim Yourself

I’m really good at this one. It’s a skill I honed back in Turkey, whereby I made sure to be seriously  injured just days before their arrival, or alternately, to fall gravely ill just days after their arrival. Both work equally well.

They can be greeted at the airport by a wincing, pale, shuffling daughter, as was the case when I found myself in the middle of a 5 car pile up in Istanbul just three days before they flew in. I was barely able to walk due to massive soft tissue damage (and a concussion, to boot!) so my school loaned me one of their drivers to help me pick them up at the airport. It’s always a heartening sight to see your only child shuffling slowly toward your exit gate, leaning heavily on the luggage cart, letting out little yelps of searing agony, supported at the elbow by a doting middle aged Turkish man.

Alternately, as noted, you could always wait until they have settled in before you thoroughly traumatize them. This is what I did the year before the car accident and it was equally effective, if not more so. I managed to somehow contract a corneal ulcer just days after their arrival, which slammed my right eyelid shut, reduced my eyeball itself to a horrific meaty mess, and resulted in daily hospital visits and round the clock antibiotic drops they had to administer every hour or so for most of their one month visit. In their jet lagged state, they took turns getting up at 2am or 4am to pry my hideous lid back to administer the drops. I very nearly lost that eye- isn’t that something every parent wants to witness for their only child?

Provide Extreme Discomfort

I’m good at this one. It’s not as dramatic as maiming yourself but it can be prolonged and quite effective. For example, for the past two visits to Shanghai it has been so hideously bone-chilling cold that even my Canadian mother can’t get warm. I insist on long walks along roads that act as wind tunnels, blasting icy air into their pores then take them to unheated noodle joints for lunch. At the other end of the spectrum, you could also drag them to central Turkey in summer time and insist they go on rather long hikes through baking, open terrain. Other options include taking them to Hong Kong and Macau before the shoulder season eases the heat and humidity somewhat. Again, insist on the long, arduous hikes in unshaded areas.

To reach these places, I suggest you take overnight buses if possible, preferably the kind that still allow smokers and which pause every few hours for smoke and pee breaks throughout the night, interrupting any hope of sleep.  For best effect, I recommend a long arduous hike after the 12 hour overnight bus ride. If  you prefer to stay in the city, take them to the most crowded, aggressive areas for a quiet stroll after their sleepless, cramped night on the bus. I recommend a Saturday stroll along Istiklal caddesi in Istanbul, particularly if the riot police are out.  Nanjing Dong Lu in Shanghai, with its persistent touts and throngs of wide-eyed Chinese day-trippers ploughing into you, is also handy for this. In addition to the sleep deprivation caused by the overnight bus, you could always take it a step further and do as I did over a decade ago in London, when I got the inspired idea to take them on an all-day walking tour through the whole city immediately after they landed. So what if it was 4 in the morning in Vancouver? We needed to see Camden Town!


Mind your step

Put Them in Harm’s Way

This one is actually quite simple and needs little explanation. It works best if you are living in a developing country. For example, one of the best ways to bring about immediate terror is to take them from the airport to their hotel in a taxi. In Shanghai, I recommend combining one of the dodgy red or dark blue taxis with a rainy day and a driver who loves both the elevated expressways and playing chicken with other drivers at great speed. He should also be unable to understand the phrase, ‘please slow down’ in any language, including Mandarin as spoken by a non-Shanghainese.

As we discovered this past week when I took my parents out for dinner not long after their arrival in Shanghai, a very quick and easy route to trauma is to take them out to dinner at a restaurant which then proceeds to catch on fire. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. The key to maximizing the impact of such a simple action is to make sure you are sitting next to a window looking out over the kitchen window so that you can see the flames shooting out of the uncapped propane canister which is just outside the window.  Stare at the flames for a good minute or so before reacting, as it is rather hard to know in China when things are going horribly wrong or if they are totally normal. Lull them into thinking this is normal. Then evacuate as soon as the restaurant starts filling with smoke and the electricity shorts and plunges both floors into darkness. Allow the throngs to clog the stairway before your parents have a chance to leave. Bonus points for not allowing your mother time to finish her much needed beer before being thrust into the acrid, jostling throng.


Bikes on sidewalk to dodge


Assign Daunting Tasks

This one is also fairly easy to arrange and can be done in conjunction with other activities mentioned above. For example, when I found myself horribly damaged after that car crash in Turkey I sent my jet lagged father out to pay my rent and bills which were due but which i had been unable to pay as I couldn’t walk down our steep hill to the bank. The bank spoke no English and my father spoke no Turkish but I recklessly sent him down there anyway.

Another option is to agree to meet them somewhere after you finish work, cavalierly telling them that they can easily get a taxi to the destination but failing to explain to them how to tell the driver where to go. Similarly, you could send them down to the wet market to buy vegetables for dinner without explaining prices, weight units or arming them with even a word of Mandarin.


Braving the hordes

Have you any further tips on how to make your parents’ visit as nerve wracking and psychologically damaging as possible?


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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.