People tend to travel to visit extraordinary landmarks, take in foreign landscapes or indulge in different cuisines. With Couchsurfing, I travel to meet people – namely locals of the town I’m traveling to.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy viewing the landscapes or tasting the cuisine as previously mentioned, but my way of absorbing the culture of the destination is to share a roof, meals and conversation with the people that have lived there for some time.
Couchsurfing has proven itself to me to be a community consisting of amazing people that are very hospitable and interesting. Just like any system, however, it can sometimes go wrong. In such a people-oriented traveling style, the first contact can set the tone of the entire voyage.
A bad experience, and the mind can easily convince itself that any future experiences will follow suit, and it can be easy to go into a shell and refrain yourself from taking too many risks for fear of meeting similar people.
A good experience, and it’s the exact opposite. The magnitude of this effect tends to decrease the more one travels, as they begin to learn that the first person they meet is not always a true indication of the general population. Yet it’s still there in some form, and so when Couchsurfing, finding the right first host can be very important.
Luckily for me, I hit the jackpot. I actually first met Caroline a couple of years ago, while she was traveling through Australia. I hosted her for a few days in Adelaide and although we didn’t remain in touch closely, I was able to contact her via Couchsurfing and she kindly agreed to host me for a few days upon arrival.
I never had any doubts, but Caroline turned out to be the ideal host for allowing me to commence my adventures. Situated in Bastille, the location was ideal for the first few nights. The major attractions and the center of Paris were within walking distance. The métro station was just around the corner.
Better than this, though, was that I got the impression that Caroline could teach me a lot about France and the french mentality. Caroline has an intimate knowledge of Paris and it’s locations, despite not having grown up in the city, and she would often provide great advice on things to see or do.
The first night I arrived I unfortunately had to decline her offer to go out for a few drinks for what appeared to me a major case of jetlag. Not something I commonly get, so it was really frustrating for me to have to decline her offer. But, twenty-four hours later I was fine and again she offered to show me the town.
In fact, first she showed me the suburbs. I was kindly invited to come along to the birthday party of a friend of hers. With a bottle of wine in hand, we took various amounts of métro lines before eventually arriving. This was my first taste of the outer suburbs of Paris, although Caroline was quick to point out to me that where we were can not accurately be referred to as Paris anymore. We were now in a foreign region, where people didn’t identity with Parisians (or, Parisians didn’t identify with the suburbanites) and acted differently.
Well, not that I could tell. The party was great. Not a lively one with dancing and such, but plenty of discussion. Everybody was extremely friendly to me, and it provided me the perfect opportunity to practice my French language.
Well, here’s another thing about Caroline. Having traveled around Australia for a while, she’s very capable at English. Indeed, her English is much better than my French. But she respected my wishes to learn the French language and, although it must have been excruciatingly painful for her to do it, she would speak to me in French and patiently listen as I sputtered about attempting to explain myself.
So I had at this point practiced a bit of my French language skills, but it was just bits and pieces. Now I was in a situation where I needed to make social conversation. Perfect. It went a lot better than I had expected. Perhaps it was the few beers that I had consumed at the party, or perhaps it was amazing comprehension skills by the locals listening to my broken French, but I was able to have a very good soirée.
The real fun was yet to come however. A few métro lines later and we were at La Machine du Moulin Rouge. A very hip nightclub three stories high, and situated in the Moulin Rouge complex. An ideal way to begin my Parisian nightlife. The centrepiece of the night was the band playing 80’s British hits, which I found a tad ironic being in Paris.
This was not the only evening out I would spend with Caroline. Another evening we met with two of her friends for dinner. One was an Australian woman who had been living in Paris for five years. It was heartening to discuss with her how long it takes to develop the French language as a foreigner. The other was actually another French woman that I had hosted in Adelaide at the same time that I had hosted Caroline.
This was my first true experience of the French restaurant culture. It was an intimate place not far from Caroline’s place. It lived up to the french reputation. Wine was a big priority of the evening, and the choice of what to drink was a laboured one. The waiter quickly corrected us when we suggested having cheese as an entrée because it sticks in the stomach.
Finally, we dined on charcuterie before the mains. I must admit, I quite regret not having chosen a French dish and instead opting for the Risotto.
So there it was – a superb way to start my Parisian, French and indeed my European adventure. I can’t thank Caroline enough for all that she did to make me feel welcome in her home country.
I reiterate the importance of the first person you interact with at the beginning of a journey.