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I say putatively as when I start searching for a suitable host for my girlfriend and I a different story emerges. As befits the city itself, New York hosts display plenty of quirks and peculiarities — not least typing ‘be clean’ in upper case and surrounded by exclamation marks. Others include strange requests about background and ethnic origin and levels of education in their profiles. I may be a graduate but I would never make a university education a sine qua non for sleeping on my couch — unlike some New York CouchSurfers.
Eventually I whittle 6,000 down to 30, firing off emails to potential hosts who look like good matches. Most ignore my requests outright. Some reply to say they are fully booked. One even suggests the use of their apartment while they are away on holiday, then emails ten minutes later to retract the offer. Just when I’m losing hope, I finally get a positive response. Kelly and Stephen, as we shall call them, are both graduate students in their early 20s. They live together in Williamsburg, have plenty of positive testimonials and are fine with sharing their apartment with a couple. What more could I ask for?
My girlfriend and I arrive in JFK clutching a Google map print off of Williamsburg and high hopes for our weekend CouchSurfing. We are going to take in some shows, see the city and hopefully make new CouchSurfing friends.
Unfortunately things rapidly go downhill. Kelly and Stephen’s neighbors are unaware that they host CouchSurfers so we have to quietly sneak into their ramshackle building. Once inside we quickly discover the ‘spare room’ promised is just a cordoned off corner of their studio apartment.
None of this would be too problematic — as a surfer I’ve shared rooms with pets and people before — if Kelly and Stephen got on with each other. But they don’t. Even at four in the morning.
“You said you’d take the trash out.”
“I’ll do it in the morning.” She nags in whiny, nasal tones; he mutters just enough to keep the argument going. Tired, jetlagged and wondering what is going on, my girlfriend and I lie three meters away, wriggling uncomfortably on a half-inflated air mattress
As Kelly and Stephen start to debate the merits of joining a local paper-recycling scheme I’m starting to wonder if CouchSurfing New York — and bringing along my girlfriend, a CouchSurfing virgin — was such a good idea.