1. Plan out a schedule before they arrive. My grandfather kept asking, "Well, what do we do next?" And I kept answering,
"I don't know, Grandpa, what do you want to do?" It was like a bad Abbott and Costello routine.
2. Don't try to show them everything. Generally speaking, unless they attended Princeton themselves, older relatives come
to see you, not the university -- unlike a younger sibling, whose trip to visit you is mostly an excuse to check out college life.
Therefore, a short tour is in order, but there's no urgent need to show them (as I did) the new physics building or the Stadium Formerly Known
For my grandpa, the greatest hits on campus were the FitzRandolph Gate, Blair Arch, the Chapel, Prospect Garden, and
the Woody Woo building. If you insist on showing them everything, give them a driving tour, not a walking tour. Which brings me to
the next point:
3. Keep the walking to a minimum. Drive, if one of you has a car, or ride the shuttle. Group the sites you're going to visit
by area so that they require only a short stroll from the car or shuttle stop.
4. Try to take the weather into account beforehand. If it might rain, be sure to have an umbrella on hand for the grandparent.
If you're going to be outside in the cold, bring a blanket and an extra coat. If you're going to be in the sun, bring sunscreen. You'll
want to anticipate complaints and be prepared to rectify the situation.
5. In a similar vein, take frequent pit stops and assure your relative that each one is for your own benefit, not his (or hers).
I overlooked this and got an explanation of prostate enlargement and bladder dysfunction in old age every time my grandpa asked
to take a bathroom break.
Save yourself and your guest this embarrassment: Stop before the relative has to ask. On the other hand, if you stop
too often, your grandparent will worry that there's something wrong with you. Once every 40 minutes or so seems to be about right.
6. Take your grandparent to a class or a public lecture. I took Grandpa to a lecture on immunology, and once he got over
the initial confusion ("American or Indian Indians?" "No, Grandpa, immunology, not Indianology."), he genuinely enjoyed it.
If you want to go to a public lecture, choose one that deals with current social/political issues, not one on some
arcane academic topic. For a class, almost anything will do. Your relatives expect your classes to be hopelessly esoteric, so it's sort
of gratifying to find that they are.
7. LISTEN. This is probably the most important point of all. If your relatives are anything like my grandpa, they will want
to hold forth about their own college years, about your parents as kids, about the shortcomings of American society, about the War,
and so on. As host, your best service to them will be listening to what they have to say. A vital addendum to this rule is:
7a. Bite your tongue. You will probably hear your grandparents say things that you would never countenance from a peer.
But you won't change your grandparents' attitude in a visit of a few days, and attacking their views may prove worse than an exercise
in futility. You don't have to agree with them, but there's no reason to pick a fight.
Listening well was about the only thing I did right during Grandpa's visit. I walked him all over creation. I showed
him things in which he had little interest. I let him freeze watching
'Tis a Pity She's a Whore in Lockhart Arch.
But he redeemed me despite my ineptitude, showing me the effect of an attentive host on a doting grandparent. Near the
end of this visit, he turned to me with a wide smile and said, "Sweetheart, I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life." Now
that's not something you'll hear from a sibling.