I’ve already written a bit about couchsurfing as a whole and a few safety tips. But practicalities aside, let’s get down to the grittier stuff. The next question I want to address being, how in the hell do you know how to properly behave around these people?

One of my favorite things about couch surfing is that every interaction is different and each host or guest you’ll meet brings something different to the table (er, couch). So there are no rules, but there certainly are a few ideas on etiquette that, while the seem painfully obvious now, may not dawn upon us during the travel stressed, shy, and nervous moments a gal can find herself in.

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If hosting…

I feel that if you’re hosting, you have more leeway to behave however you damn well please. It is afterall your home, life, schedule, and so on. It’s a good idea, however, to be clear and honest on your profile. If you tend to stay up late, have three hairy cats, have a busy schedule that won’t let you interact much with guests, or any other general hang-ups, it’s better to let a guest know ahead of time and save the later awkwardness. My one consistent complaint about many hosts is that they seem often to forget how exhausting and stressful traveling can be. Giving incomplete directions, not showing up on time, keeping guests up late with noise, or expecting heaps of friendly mirthful conversations and nights out are not big issues, but when compounded with being in a foreign place, perhaps after being months on the road, with who knows what other anxieties, it can be enough to drive a girl to the edge. Please understand our needs to do laundry, sleep more than 6 hours, and borrow your toothpaste. If guest crosses boundareis, let them know, but try to be productive about it. “Hey, I see you’ve been using my internet for a few hours now. Would you like to go out and walk around town a bit?” makes more progress than simply being close-lipped and later refusing to host young women because they just “go on facebook all day.” (true story, ladies)

And one more thing…never ever hit on a guest.  I’m not saying don’t kiss, have sex with, flirt with, end up tumultuously dating a guest. I’m not going to pretend I think CS romance doesn’t happen. But if you get what I mean when I say there’s a difference between subtle mutual  flirting and hitting on, then you probably get it.

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If surfing…

-People shouldn’t host expecting any payback, but a good way to show your gratitude is to treat your host a bit to prove that you aren’t just using them for a free place to say. Bring something from your region as a small gift, cook dinner for the house, buy them a drink if you go out. The limited on funds may choose to tidy up a bit for the host. Something simple, like doing a full set of dishes instead of just your own, helps out a lot.

-Be flexible. Wow, it sucks when your host wants you to be out of the house at 8 am, wants to watch Iron Man instead of going out to bars, or picks on you for being a vegetarian. Take it as an exercise in character buildng. Ask for a good recommendation for a breakfast place or cafe, hit the bars on your own, or cook them a delicious veg meal to prove them wrong. As with any social interaction, you are going to encounter personality differences and I  think this is usually pretty interesting and maybe exciting. If we wanted to be comfortable and around people we know and like, we would probably stay home.  As the guest, you are a bit more obligated to be polite. If someone is being a total jerk, it’s better to make a discreet excuse to move to a hostel, new couch, next destination, whatever, than try to tell them off.

-Try to anticipate what your host is really trying to say. Many people are painfully polite. If the host tells you not to cook, do your dishes, or whatever it might still be a good idea to swoop in and do it anyway. If they complain how busy they are with school, make sure they really want to take you on that tour of downtown.

-Don’t be too stiff! After all this talk of politeness, you hate me for saying this but it’s so true.  I realized this after my first three or so references said “she’s a nice girl,” but not much else. I had been so afraid to be impolite or bothersome, that I hadn’t opened up and been myself. People host because they want you in their home, so relax and be you. Bring whatever you’ve got to bring to the couch.

Any other recommendatons? Better yet, any stories of hosting/surfing personality clashes, fall-outs, saves and so on? And…what other CS aspects would you like to see posts about? Let us know in the comments!

post by Jackie Clark