I just hosted my first couchsurfer, Ania, last week, and I loved every minute of it. In the end, after balancing the checkbook, it seems that I made off like a bandit! Here’s how to milk your guests for all they’ve got:
- Ask for something from their origin. With Ania, I didn’t need to ask; she asked me, and though I told her not to bring me anything, she insisted. I gave up and let her surprise me. When I picked her up, she came bearing gifts of two bottles of Polish vodka (Zubrowka, a Polish bison grass vodka, and Zoladkowa Gorzka, a Polish vodka with orange and cinamon), and some folksy, handmade earrings for my roommate and friend, Ishita. There was also a box of Ptasie Mlekczo (a chocolate-covered treat filled with soft meringue). She brought me two books, one about poetry and the other about Winnie the Pooh, both in Polish to help me practice my Polish language. And at the end of her stay with me, Ania surprised me once more with two beautiful pillows, handmade in Poland (she had brought an “empty” suitcase so that she could SHOP while visiting New York City).
- Take advantage of their knowledge and abilities. Ania is Polish, so I needed to find a way to exploit that fact. Some of my friends in New York are Polish as well, so I used Ania to help me earn some Pole Points ®™ with them. Another time, I used Ania’s cultured taste for white wine to forego the banter between waitstaff and I for choosing a bottle; Ania knew which would go best with our meal, so why bother?
- Get them to pay for everything. This point is like an art. Let’s say that each time we dined out, Ania and I would alternate as to who would pay for that meal. Since I was the host, I would tell her, “Hey! Ania! You should try this quintessential New York City dirty-water hot dog!” I treated her to that, then later on I would pass hints that we should go to a nice Michelin-starred French restaurant for dinner. She would grab the tab, though I complained, and pay for it, because I had paid for our dirty-water dog lunch. Cab rides can be worked similarly; simply pay for those nearby trips, and have your guest pay the next one, hopefully involving some $85 trek from Coney Island to the Bronx Zoo.
- Chores! When your guest first arrives, the kitchen sink should be piled to the brim with dirty dishes. During the first night or two, your couchsurfing guests are still feeling grateful of your generosity and overwhelmed at the new city; washing dishes will surely give them a way to show their appreciation for your kindness, while giving them something familiar to do to overcome that overwhelming sensation of being far from home. Make them a quick meal at home the first chance you get – when they go to take the dishes to the sink (they always do), they will often start knocking some out before you can “stop” them.
- Get them to leave things behind. Ania had already brought two books for me to help me study Polish, but I expressed interest in her Pocket English-Polish Dictionary, so she happily gave it to me. Another good example of things left behind would be Ania’s purchase of a cellular SIM card, which she used during the time she was here. Though she was here for only 9 days, she had purchased a half-month unlimited plan, 15 days of talk, text, and web. After she departed, I was able to use the SIM card to supplement my not-quite-unlimited data package.
- Trade languages. As a bit of a language enthusiast, I love picking up some basic words and phrases for which to use some other time. It gives me great pleasure to answer the phone with a greeting in their native language. There is no better way to learn a language than complete immersion, but having a native speaker as a friend is a close second-best.
- Take advantage of their knowledge and abilities. I brought up this point earlier, but this is one that can and should be exploited. Perhaps earning some Pole Points ®™ with my friends just because I am hosting a Polish friend is not the pee-cee way of going about it, but why not glean as much knowledge as you can from your guest? Your surfer is staying with you to do the same, to see life and experience it as it is lived by locals; feel free to assume that it is a two-way street.
- A different perspective. When touring the city, browsing the boutiques, or just perusing various objets d’art at your local galleries, your guest can provide you with the chance to see the things you’ve seen, perhaps numerous times, in a new light.
- Lifelong friendships. With every opportunity that I’ve had so far with couchsurfing, though few and far between, I’ve established relationships that I believe will stand the test of time. When photos and memories fade with time (or with senility), hopefully those friends that I’ve made will be there to spoon-feed me my liquefied double-cheeseburgers, or at least be available to listen to my rants.
* This post is dedicated to Ania Zakowska, that friend that hopefully will be there to spoon-feed me zupa piwna when I am senile.