Surf ‘n Turf

IMG_5672Couchsurfing must be one of the weirdest things I’ve gotten involved with in my short life, and not just because the word itself doesn’t make a lick of sense.

The concept is deceptively simple:
1. Contact stranger, ask if you can stay in their house.
2. Stay in their house.
3. ?
4. The world is now a more tolerant, understanding, interesting and fun place.*
*Gross understatement. 

I don’t think it is possible to overestimate what this community means to the world today. IMG_8829The internet might make the world a smaller place, but that would matter less than Miley Cyrus if that new evolution wasn’t translated back to meatspace. Send emails to friends abroad all you want, if the interaction stops there, you might as well be talking to your upstairs neighbor whom I WISH WOULD STOP THIS FUCKING NOISE ALREADY I SWEAR if he wasn’t such a nice guy I would have killed him before he had a chance to fuck my friend. Where was I.

Similar to chess, the mechanics are easy like your mom but the implications are virtually endless. What is essentially a free hotel, turns into a cultural exchange, social dialogue, mutual learning and spark for new ideas. It invites travel and for those who can’t, gives the chance to travel vicariously. What is handed out like free candy on a public internet site, is absolutely invaluable in today’s global development.

People who couldn’t afford to travel for very long or at all, can now spend weeks abroad. Those who would rot away in a youth hostel full of tourists and Australians, can learn about a country’s ways and traditions.
A conventional tourist will leave Ghent believing Belgium to have good waffles and chocolate, and a few nice old buildings. A couchsurfer, by the time they leave, will know we don’t give a flying fuck (pictured below) about either chocolate or waffles (Seriously dude. Fucking Waffles?) but instead, invest our valuable time in perfecting recipes for beer and french fries, which are about as French as the croissant. Which is actually Turkish, go figure.I'd give it but it flew away.

Tourism destroys a place. I don’t care what anybody says: It literally destroys entire cultures, languages, and people. You can’t claim that it’s “good for economics because tourists spend money” and in the same breath declare that “throwing money around in third-world counties will only cause inflation” because of how much sense it makes.
And like dancing fucking monkeys, the people in Venice, Hawaii and many other places watered down their heritage and sold it for a US dollar. At least, the parts tourists would buy- The rest of it was ignored because it wouldn’t sell and eventually, forgotten by the next generation of local souvenir salespeople. Discarded, basically, over the course of mere decades.

IMG_1239Couchsurfing on the other hand, while technically still tourism, avoids all of those problems. In fact, because of the profound exchange, guests often leave with at least some basic understanding of the local language and ways, thus reinforcing it. Budgets are usually quite low so no big spending is done, discouraging people to turn historical buildings into expensive restaurants, effectively dead space for the locals. Nothing has to be sold so nothing goes willfully ignored, and the culture is maintained with all its less-widely popular little dances, foods and whatnot.

When you go someplace, don’t be that asshole with a big-ass camera lens protrudingIMG_8826 from his navel like a penile salute, thinking a culture’s treasure can be found in the gift shop. Unless you’re literally dealing with beggars, we don’t want your money. Okay the aforementioned restaurants and hotels might, but realize that even if the place goes bankrupt and employees end up on the streets, at least we’ll have the space to put a fucking soup kitchen or any thing doing constructive work and not involving your entertainment. And their homes will become more affordable as a bonus.

Ironically, money kills the priceless culture it flows towards, while exchange strengthens it instead. Because of this paradox, all destructive side-effects of conventional tourism of the wealthy is replaced by a bonding, a strengthening on both local and global scale.
As long as there is mutual understanding and communication, communities like CS (I’m lazy so we’re abbreviating now) are one of the very best things our generation is undertaking, and should be expanded and popularized amongst every sane resident of every country. We are the first in human history to have this capability and for the sake of pretty much everything, should grasp it while we can.

IMG_0827My part in CS is that of both surfer and host, which is oddly enough just a fraction of what the community has to offer. I don’t host events or parties or even attend them, I don’t moderate forums and I am no “ambassador” of any place. I would host as often as I can if my roommates would allow it, but even that is far from 24/7 because if you let it, hosting can be a very intense experience. And I tend to let it.

Just this week, I’ve done similar tours around the city about 5 times. I’ve visited the castle of the counts twice, and the cathedral 3 times. I’ve explained the role of Jacob Van Artevelde repeatedly, ate enough french fries to kill a horse and yeah you get my point.

I enjoy showing my guests the city. I love taking them with me to the events I work at, introduce them to my friends and family, and include them in pretty much everything. And just as I grow tired of their presence, they leave! It’s like having friends without all the friend duties!
And since I can hear you wondering: Yes, if my hosting services include any action in the sack, I’ll gladly cope with it. Though I can say I can count the examples on one two-fingered hand (haha fingered) compared to the hundreds upon hundreds of people I’ve met.

IMG_1561I’m not obliged to anything but letting them sleep over since that’s the only thing I actually agreed to, but it feels meaningless if I don’t actually spend time making a connection. So as long as I feel like it is appreciated by my guests, I’ll put a lot of time and effort into their experience. I tend to get a little lost in that.

Also, while in a sense I am glad they don’t stick around (though some did), saying goodbyes is a little difficult sometimes. Being so dependent on someone is a very intimate thing and in widely varying degrees, it can be… difficult, to say goodbye. Sure, we do the “hey if you ever come to [blank] make sure to contact me” but what we’re really saying is, “Well, I guess I’ll never see you again. Have a nice life.”

As they depart, my gut feeling has included “Good Fucking Riddance” and “I may just be saying goodbye to the love of my life” and every possible emotion in between. Occasionally I am glad to see them leave because of some annoying habit they had, but more often, I am glad to see them leave because I’m afraid I might be falling in love yet again.

IMG_2173Farewells are easier as a surfer, because you have a sense of purpose and since you’re just moving to the next city, the feeling of loss is alleviated by the anticipation. But yeah, claiming that I’m piss poor at goodbyes is putting it lightly.
I am a little better at hellos, I got used to those. Shake hands, “Welcome To Belgium!”, no kisses because no one will know how many (1 in Belgium) and someone will do that awkward-tilt-of-the-head-thing resulting in a cascade of anticipating gestures with pursed lips as if it concerned some oscine mating dance. See? It’s a fucking science.

I see hosting as a privilege, a lot more than surfing. It’s easy for me because it’s in my nature: Shallow on the relationship side, uncaring or oblivious about awkward situations, down to earth and easy-going when it comes to adapting or privacy. Like on the job or in bed, I aim to please so usually, if they can turn a blind eye to the mess I live in, they leave the city quite satisfied.
As you can probably tell from the first half of this page, that’s kind of important to me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s