Aha, got your naughty brain working there, didn’t I?
To set matters straight, this post is all about why it really pays to make a few friends from another country/culture and if possible – get to know them better even before you make the trip.
Couchsurfing, ofcourse, has become a somewhat generic term now thanks to the popular website. I’ve had just 3 experiences so far but each one of them unique and totally worth the experience. The first one was at Amsterdam with an elderly English lady (a lovely room to myself and a hair-raising but commendable narration of her life), the next in Copenhagen with an intelligent & chatty Polish girl and the last one (that happened in very couchsurfing-like fashion at the 11th hour) in Berlin with a young German girl well on her way to find love and marriage in Columbia!
However, much before I registered on Couchsurfing and much before the French chapter, someone mentioned a little-known website going by the name Frenchspeakingpeople. Of course you did have to know a bit of French or at least be a francophile to begin. I started out filtering profiles (based on my own set of FBI parameters) and sent badly-grammared french e-letters to them stating how much I loved cheese & wine and how I’d love to give them interesting insights into the colourful chaos that is India.
I got a success ratio of 10% which turned out to be a small bunch of folks mainly from France and one from Belgium & Czech respectively – I can’t emphasis enough how beautiful and large-hearted they all proved to
be. It was an email relationship for roughly 5-6 months where I debunked some typical myths they had about India and learned a lot more about specific regions in France and how different each of them were. Once I was there, I met/stayed with most of them – overwhelmed with their generosity and kindness till this day. And yes, I continue to keep in touch with them regularly, if not as often as I’d like to.
A quick overview of the Couchsurfing map shows that the concept is most popular in the Americas and in Europe, but the good news is that it is catching up in Asia and more specifically India as well. With the little but great experience I’ve had, I’d like to (*clears throat*) impart my own set of do’s and dont’s:
– I’ve had family/friends look shocked when I said I stayed with a stranger. I can empathise with that because I felt the same way not too long ago. But you have to do it once to be convinced. If you are single, I can’t find one reason why you musn’t couchsurf. If you’re married
with/without kids, all the more reason to do it because you can actually see how families function in another culture.
– If you are a bit investigative like I am, use Google search to the fullest and you’d be reassured and/or amazed with some of the long-lost links it can throw up. Yes, it may not be the best or fool-proof method but having heard of some bad experiences from others, it’s prudent to be aware.
– Be precisely what your emails and your detailed description claims yourself to be. I know of a friend who stayed with someone who turned out to be exactly the opposite of what the profile stated. While there was nothing to worry home about, the experience was dull and boring, to say the least.
– Try and stay over a weekend or when the host has a holiday – not only can they take you around and show you the less-touristy spots but also spend time with you. Nope, you aint going there just for the free couch.
– Always take something for the host. Always. Ideally something from your country that is unique and not-too-heavy but if you don’t have the time, take them out or even better – cook them a traditional meal if possible. Yes mom, the pav-bhaji masala came handy 🙂
– Remember the “Sex-in-English-means-Six-in-Swedish” stories you have read or heard? Do read up a little about the other culture. For the record, however unrelated, I will still continue to freak out about lack of latches/bolts in French toilets.
– Lastly, be prepared to host. Yeah okay, I have not done it as yet <shamefaced> but hey, our home is now set and ready. Bienvenue!