What’s the single best benefit of Couchsurfing? It’s a decent question to ask, and one that doesn’t necessarily have a single best answer – each person may have their own reasons for having a different answer to this question. For me however, the experience of living with a local and being able to watch and learn from the way of life and the mentality of that local would be one of the first things to come to mind.
I have written in previous articles how Couchsurfing with non-locals has surprised me greatly in disproving my initial beliefs of disadvantages of doing so. Yet, I still feel that it’s my preference to Couchsurf with locals as it’s they that are best able to answer any questions or show you the genuine lifestyle of the place.
So with this in mind, being in Spain, can I tell you what the Spanish lifestyle is like? And what are the defining characteristics and mentality traits of a Spaniard?
The answer was no.
I could not.
Because, during my time in Spain, I had only successfully Couchsurfed once and that was with Cássio and company in Madrid. You will recall that they were instead Brazilian. Sure, I was able to ask them questions of their time in Spain and equally walk the streets and observe the habits or talk to people on the streets (although language would normally be an issue there), but I’d never had the pleasure of living with a Spaniard to truly experience it.
That is, until I met Kurro and Couchsurfed with him in Málaga. As many have done lately on this trip of mine, Kurro saved me by accepting my request the day before arrival. Although busy and knowing that he had another Couchsurfer coming in a couple of days, he said he could help me out when I first arrived. So it was that I finally had the chance to meet and talk with a Spanish local.
Kurro broke my perception of the Spanish wide open by always wearing a smile and being super friendly. He had done some travel himself and spent some time in the United States and could therefore speak a decent level of English. His personality was very open and trusting and it made staying with him very simple.
Kurro lived with his pet dog Yogi, who was just as friendly and accommodating. Always wanting to play when you would arrive home but knowing when to stop asking for it, Yogi was a perfectly gentle dog that was just as comfortable relaxing by your side while you watched some television.
I went out for a few drinks with Kurro on the first night. We went to the 100 Montaditos, a bar chain that I have mentioned before on this blog that on certain nights sells beers and most menu items for one euro only. It was a good opportunity to talk to him, to find his perspective on Spain and the rest of the world.
I’m not sure why, but I naturally expected him to hold the same perspective as I, and to be generally disappointed with the Spanish people and the economic state of the country. What I found was the contrary. Kurro held the Spanish people in pretty good regard and appeared to be very proud about his countrymen. He acknowledged that there are economic issues at the moment, but overall was pretty content living and working in Spain.
I also attempted to find out from Kurro if he may have an explanation for why Couchsurfing in Spain has been found to be more difficult than in the other countries I had visited. The Spanish are no doubt social people that enjoy having a drink and a conversation just as much as other cultures. Are they just not open to the idea of meeting new people? Or challenging their own ideals with other cultures? Kurro couldn’t give me a definitive answer, but he didn’t seem all too surprised at hearing that my Couchsurfing time in Spain had been challenging.
Certainly, Kurro came across as an exception to the rule. He was a proud Spaniard but his openness and travel bug presented an extra layer to him that I hadn’t really seen with the other Spanish that I had met.
But this is the thing about Couchsurfing. No matter which country you are in, the people you stay with or meet through Couchsurfing are generally going to be travel conscious and open minded. Couchsurfing exposes those kinds of people to you, and while they are an important demographic to meet to learn the culture of the place, they may not necessarily be the most accurate representation of the mentality of the people of the country. It’s important, therefore, to make a bit of an extra effort and meet some non-Couchsurfers – be it friends of the Couchsurfers that aren’t involved in the system, or people on the street somehow.
Meeting Kurro allowed me to really experience the Spanish pride. Regardless of how the country was doing politically or socio-economically, they would always be proud to call themselves Spaniards. Jokingly, Kurro couldn’t believe that I had chosen France to base myself in and pointed out that Spain and France have a mutual dislike of sorts. He made sure to point out that Spain was by far the better of the two. I say jokingly, but I get the impression that there was perhaps a hint of seriousness there.
He also said one interesting thing to me one night. In response to my opinion on Portugal and the Portuguese, he stated that Spain and Portugal have a pretty good relationship, but at the end of the day, the Portuguese look up to the Spanish as a kind of big brotherly relationship. Again this showed a sense of pride of his home country Spain, holding the point of view that it was the larger, more superior. But my time in Portugal never revealed such an attitude to me and I found that statement a surprising one and one that was hard to agree with.
Regardless, I couldn’t help but admire Kurro’s pride and patriotism of his country. The advantages of travel and the possibilities of starting a life somewhere else in the world have been greatly increased in the last few decades and it may have resulted in an overall decline in such patriotism to one’s home country.
Not here in Spain though. Not with people like Kurro.