City: Lille, France
Years on Couchsurfing: 6
Hey Emily! How did you learn about Couchsurfing?
I had a boyfriend at the time who was always hosting. As in: I could never get the guy on his own. If I suggested a walk on the beach, he’d ask if he could bring his two Brazilian surfers. If we wanted to go out for Valentine’s dinner, he’d say that he had an Italian girl at home currently and could she come? So I got interested in why on earth he would do that, what he got out of it, and what he thought of the system. He also set me up with my first surfer, a girl he was supposed to host but couldn’t as he’d got his dates mixed up!
Sounds like a great guy! So what made you get involved?
I was curious to understand why the aforementioned boyfriend liked hosting so much, so I gave it a try. I hosted the girl he set me up with, then I surfed in Réunion Island with a girl called Amélie… who was hosting the party of the year! I met so many interesting people, something like 50 people when I was only expecting one! Unfortunately, her theme for the party was white, and if there’s one thing a traveller does not have, it’s white clothes, so she lent me a jumper and a skirt and we chatted the night away while playing local games. I mostly participate by hosting others – it’s fun to open my home and let the world come to me!
Oh yah, white clothing is asking for trouble. Sounds like an amazing time though! What was your very first hosting experience like?
I hosted the girl my ex-boyfriend sent to me for a couple of nights. It was my first CS hosting, so I did everything I could to make her comfortable, including giving her my bedroom so that she wouldn’t have to sleep with my cats walking around. She ended up taking my boyfriend too about a week later, so I thought: oh dear, is THIS Couchsurfing? before deciding that I didn’t have anything else to lose, so let’s go for it!
Ok, I take that back. He does not sound like a great guy! What has been your favorite hosting memory?
There isn’t really one that sticks out, but what I love about hosting is the variety of weird and wonderful people who walk through my doors. Circus artists, would-be skippers aiming for the Caribbean, students heading to Greenland for two years to study sociology, people who are looking for a flat and who end up becoming my neighbours, people at the very beginning of a 5-year trip around the world, street musicians – I’ve had so many private concerts! -, twins I took to a folk ball and who surprised everyone by being so physically identical that all the ladies at the dance had a case of déjà-vu, trusting surfers who met up with me in the middle of nowhere at impossible hours but knew they would be safe, LGBT activists, climate change activists, permaculture fiends, city poets… all sorts of colourful and fun people!
They all sound incredible. I can see why you have a hard time choosing with so much experience! What about your most memorable surfing experience?
I really don’t surf much – I’ve probably surfed 20 times in 6 years, compared to 300-something hostings – so there are fewer people to choose from, that helps! Without a doubt, my most interesting experience was with a lady I surfed with in Bern, Switzerland. She was in her 80s, but wrote on her profile that she was only 60 because “if people know I’m 80, when I ask to stay with them, they’ll think I’m going to die on the stairs up to their apartment, whereas if they think I’m only 60, they’ll think ‘oh, it’s fine, she’s my mum’s age'”! When I arrived, she had just started an English lesson for two young’uns in their 50s, which she immediately roped me in to help with, saying that she wasn’t sure whether she should take it as a compliment that after 10 years, they were still coming to her to learn English, or a criticism that after 10 years, they still couldn’t speak English :D. I loved her, she was great!
She sounds like a firecracker! What is a unique gift you have received from one of your surfers?
A little wooden cat from a young lad called Sofiane. Most people bring magnets or postcards, but he had really taken the time to study my profile and to think of something that suited my personality and interests, it was a really thoughtful gift.
Aw, that is cute! If you could surf (or host) anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
Hmmmm… Probably Rosa Parks. She doesn’t strike me as one to give up after a few declined requests, and I think she’d be happy to host as well as to surf. Plus, I think she’d make an interesting traveling companion and we’d have plenty to talk about!
She would be an excellent host – or surfer, that is for sure! Do you have any crazy travel stories you want to share with us?
I was riding solo down Madagascar on a motorbike when I hit a pothole, lost control and crashed into the ditch. Maybe it was because I was female (still am, if you’re wondering), but when I stood on the side of the road (in floods of tears because I’d just broken my rental bike and was panicking about how to get it repaired without losing my deposit), three Malagasy bikers stopped about five minutes later, pulled the most enormous screwdrivers from their pockets and got both the bike and me up and running again, then rode with me peloton-style to the next town where I could buy a replacement mirror for the one that I had irreversibly damaged. That saved my trip and my faith in humanity :).
What an amazing story! There are good people still out there! What is a local cuisine you love?
I like carbonnade flamande, a sweet beef stew made with gingerbread. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, and if you eat meat, it’s a cheap and easily-accessible dish in the area!
Sounds delicious. What is your dream vacation?
I’d love to go to Botswana and Mali to see the settings for my favorite books, and I’d like to go to Greenland because I never see it on anyone’s travel lists but it looks like an extremely cool (even cold? sorry, bad pun) place.
Greenland is definitely on my to-visit list! Last question, what is your advice to a new Couchsurfer?
Host before you surf! It’ll get you free Verification for 3 months, it’ll teach you what it’s like to have a stranger in your house who will see you in your pajamas, and it’ll make it much easier to find a host down the line! And you never know, you might even enjoy it :).