The stories of a couchsurfer

Lewis, Birmingham

The couch of Lewis

Couchsurfing, while gaining popularity and becoming more and more familiar over the last three or four years, is still in it’s infancy. On relative corporate scales, it remains in start-up mode. It has changed much in the almost six years since I began my personal journey with it, one such example being the forms of people involved in it.

Couchsurfing has always held the wonderful advantage of having a grand variety of participants, but in the early years, these people tended to hover around the “eccentric” side of the personality spectrum, being attracted to Couchsurfings unique application of altruism and it’s then still underground status.

Now, it’s becoming more common to use Couchsurfing to interact with more “general” personalities. I’m disappointed at my choice of the word general, but I can’t think of anything more apt.

I want to make one thing clear – “general” does not imply uninteresting or bland. Instead, it’s used here simply to convey that these people are closer to the averagely portrayed member of society. They hold a standard nine-to-five weekday job, pay their bills and taxes and try to relax and enjoy the weekends.

Again, this article is not trying to state that these people are lesser (or greater, for that matter) than the alternative, just that they are different to what I was used to meeting through Couchsurfing in the earlier years.

Of course this only serves to increase the already large variety of people participating on Couchsurfing and can therefore be nothing but good for the system.

It also goes to show, as was mentioned earlier, that these general personalities are just as interesting as their counterparts, with the latest case in point being Lewis, my Couchsurfing host in Birmingham.

Lewis and I had a bit of a mixup when we first met. I had informed him that we could meet at the church at a certain hour. I had intended for this to mean St. Martin’s Church in the Bull Ring, as it was the most obvious thing that I had seen on Google Maps a day or so before. Lewis, knowing the city better than I, had thought that I had meant the Birmingham Cathedral, which is admittedly the main church in Birmingham.

As I waited on the steps for Lewis to eventually find me (still unaware that we were at different churches), a homeless man approached asking for some money for a burger at a nearby restaurant. At that instant, I received a call from Lewis and, already frustrated at the situation, told the homeless man promptly to wait a few seconds.

After overhearing our conversation for a few seconds, this man realised that I was trying to provide details of my location to Lewis and thought he would try and help me out by giving me nearby companies to relay. This only worsened the situation as I could now barely hear Lewis on the other end of the phone trying to explain to me where he was.

Eventually, Lewis figured out where I really was and I was able to end the call, pulling out a couple of quid in spare change and giving it to the homeless man to finally leave me in peace.

When we eventually met, we went to a nearby pub and I bought him a couple of pints. Here, we went over the pretty standard introductory conversation – travel history, hobbies and career. Lewis was a designer for video games and would be tasked with sketching designs for all sorts of things from characters to objects.

He grew up in nearby Coventry and while he was quite content with Birmingham and the area, he had a desire to travel and work somewhere else. He just wasn’t sure of the opportunities in his career elsewhere.

Lewis was not extravagant nor particularly outgoing, but he was interesting in his own right. Upon arriving at his place I learned that he was a keen learner of languages, his living room surrounded with language books ranging from French to German. His latest interest was the Russian language and the walls were splattered with maps of Moscow, London, Paris and others.

He would read texts in a foreign language with an online source that was quite innovative. It provided the option for the reader to markup certain words that they already knew or have seen before, and a hover of the cursor over a word would reveal the translation. Unfortunately for me, there was a fee associated with it, so needless to say it never reached my computer and I’ve since forgotten the site.

One night he caught up with a French friend of his that he met through Couchsurfing to practice French and I caught up with them both a while later. Another night saw us share a few pints at The Old Crown – a 15th century pub and another us sharing my first British fish and chips at his place.

All pretty “general” things from a pretty “general” kind of guy. But they were nice. It provided me with a sense of what it was like to live a standard life in Birmingham.

Lewis may have been a pretty average kind of guy, yet he still did manage to do something extraordinary – he introduced me to the world of Alan Partridge, something many of Brits would have been proud to have done.

True to form for Lewis and his “general” lifestyle, Alan Partridge is a household name here in Britain, and when Lewis discovered that I didn’t even know who he was, his eyes lit up and we watched episode upon episode on YouTube.

I like to think I have a decent sense of humour, but often what other people find hilarious I just don’t find as funny, so I was a bit hesitant when Lewis assured me of the comic genius that was Steve Coogan and his alter-ego Alan Partridge.

Yet I laughed almost throughout the entire episode. Why, over the course of the few nights I stayed with Lewis, I think we just about watched every episode of the two seasons of I’m Alan Partridge.

Australia generally shows a lot of British television, particularly the comedy series, and so I was surprised that I had never heard of the character nor seen any of the associated series on air in Australia. The sense of humour was right in line with the other Australian comedies, so I couldn’t understand why this one missed the boat.

Lewis also played the guitar, and he played it quite well too. He didn’t really mention it at all during my time there, but I saw the guitar sitting in the corner of the living room and so asked him about it a few times. Eventually, he picked up the guitar and proceeded to really surprise with his talent.

So there he was.

Lewis.

A pretty ordinary guy living in one of the more boring places I had visited.

Working a standard job in an office from nine to five.

Enjoying a few pints with a mate.

Watching standard television.

And still he had the ability to teach me a thing or two, and to surprise me.

Perhaps this is all a “general” person is anyway – an extraordinary person with a humbleness that hides their talents and differences. Everybody has an interesting story to tell, even when it doesn’t appear that way – you just have to get them to tell it, or listen really carefully to hear it.

Couchsurfing is great for allowing you to meet people that challenge your way of life, show you a different way of living and provide endless discoveries. But now Couchsurfing is great for seeing how your standard picture of life operates in a different country too, and that is something that shouldn’t be ignored.

Lewis’ final act was to refuse a photograph of him on his couch, which is why the picture for this article is person-less. I’m still not sure what made him so apprehensive to be included in the photograph, but I respected his decision anyway.

I’d like to say he looked pretty general, but perhaps the mystery for the readers is fitting, as looks can often be deceiving.

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