I’ve been extremely lucky along my travels in Europe to have the majority of my Couchsurfing experiences in a very relaxed atmosphere where the host doesn’t feel or want to be too committed to spend the entirety of my stay with me.
It’s not that I think that’s wrong, but I will be open and say I prefer to have the freedom to do some exploration alone when I want, and socialise with the locals when I feel too.
On many occasions, this is likely brought on by the fact that the host is working/studying throughout the day, and by the end of it may have little energy or motivation to do too much that night anyway, which works out for me, as I also fail to muster up too much energy after a full day walking around discovering the city and would much prefer to just chat about life in the living room to learn more about themselves.
The latest Couchsurfing adventure, in Manchester, was no different.
I had been lucky enough to organise a stay with Colin, an Irishman who had come to Manchester to study at one of the many universities there. He met me at the bus station and we immediately went back to his place together.
It was a typically cold, blustery and wet British summer day but my hopes were high having left the bleak confines of Birmingham and being greeted by a much more colourful and energetic Manchester city centre.
The bus drove southward out of the city and through some nice, clean and green neighbourhoods and Colin and I chatted for a bit. An Irishman, he had no problems holding a conversation and we quickly got through the initial ‘getting-to-know-you’ conversation.
As nice as the area the bus drove through seemed, Colin told me not too expect too much upon arrival at his place, as he lived in a cheaper part of town where crime was not uncommon. Indeed, the area didn’t look as nice as the others, but it was also far from what I would consider dangerous.
When I arrived I met one of his housemates, Lewis, a very friendly local of roughly the same age as Colin and I and just as sociable.
Colin worked at a pub during the nights and would often sleep during the day, which meant that he didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend with the Couchsurfers, but took what he could get. Lewis, on the contrary, had loads of time to spend with Couchsurfers, and seemed to enjoy it.
I never really did figure out what Lewis did with his time during the day. I got the impression that he was considering (or partaking in) study and there was also an early mention of having just found a new job at a sports store, of which he moaned at the thought of going back in for his next shift and contemplated simply not doing it.
His lack of funds caused him to be on a pretty strict diet consisting of things such as pasta, eggs and toast and he was ever so grateful one night when I decided to buy a pack of beer for the household.
He stayed up late and slept in late in the mornings, often not coming out of his bedroom until the afternoon. I also got the impression that he spent a fair bit of time on dating websites, searching through for girls and setting up dates.
Lewis must have been somewhat successful with it because he always seemed to be between dates with various girls. How he managed to fund them was a mystery to me.
He was also excited because while I was there Colin was also hosting two young German girls by the names of Stefanie (Steffi) and Nici. Even though Steffi was taken for back home in Germany, Lewis was quite frank in his fancy for her and would flirt quite openly with her. Younger and a bit shy (their Couchsurfing experience wasn’t extensive), Steffi didn’t really know how to react to this but would generally laugh and give nothing in return.
This didn’t deter Lewis though and his persistence was a wonder to watch. It was all in good taste and he never went too far, I think all the while knowing it was a lost cause from the beginning.
Both Lewis and Colin were hilarious blokes and were able to make me laugh during the entire stay. It’s always a marvel to me that, given Britain’s dreadful weather and general lack of success to be proud about, it’s people never fail to have an incredible sense of humour and are without doubt the funniest culture that I’ve met on my travels so far.
This probably has something to do with the fact that it’s not too dissimilar to Australian humour, but the point stands.
It’s very interesting to watch the humour evolve as you go from country to country, and the distance between British humour and German humour couldn’t be much further away. The Germans, despite having a reputation for having no humour at all, actually love a laugh and can be very entertaining, but the type of humour is different.
Colin and Lewis exploited this beautifully by often telling jokes with a dead straight face to see if the German girls would believe it or not. One such occasion was when there was a “debate” over the origin of the creator of Heinz tomato sauce. The girls, being German, were outraged at the thought that Heinz wasn’t being recognised as a German name, but Colin was adamant, stating with a serious tone “nah, it was Mark Heinz from Plymouth, I’m sure of it”. The girls quickly became less convinced of their argument.
Although my previous article claims that Manchester is not just a city built on football, this household did nothing to support it as Colin was an avid football fan along with the third housemate, Mark, who didn’t spend much time there. Lewis went along with it, but I got the impression he wasn’t as passionate and preferred instead to learn by playing FIFA on the Playstation.
Unfortunately for Lewis, he was the whipping boy at FIFA as the other two were quite talented at it, so he rarely won a match. This meant that he was more than excited at the prospect of playing against me and sure enough he came through with a couple of late goals after a tightly fought first half.
We played a few more games, each one becoming progressively closer but each time he was too good for me.
Colin also took me along to the pub one Sunday to watch one of the opening matches of the season. It was a great experience to be in Manchester, watching the football at a pub having a few pints. It’s not something I’d like to do every day of the week, as those pubs are quite dimly lit and don’t exactly contain the best company, but it was a nice experience.
I also managed to get a taste of the local music scene one night as Lewis took myself and the German girls out to a bar just on the fringes of the city where there was live music. It was pretty good quality music too and the beer here was well-enough priced (for British standards), which is I guess why Lewis enjoyed the place so much.
We did, afterwards, head on down to another bar around the corner which was more of a pool hall and contained hardly anybody in there. We played a few games of pool, Lewis taking the opportunity to put a few more moves on Steffi, and the games were fairly evenly split.
Another night we went for a walk along “Curry Mile”, a stretch of road packed with sub-continental and middle eastern restaurants. I stopped into one place, the name of which I can’t remember. That will haunt me for the rest of my life as I had what turned out to be one of the most satisfying kebabs of my life there.
Mancunians (northern Englishmen in general) also have a particular accent. It’s not something that’s vastly different from the south, but there are times where it can catch a foreigner off guard – even one like myself that speaks english natively.
One time, while staying with Colin, there was a knock at the door, at which time nobody else was home (Lewis was still in his bedroom despite being around noon). I answered and three people in formal attire holding a clipboard and with name tags pinned to their shirts were at the door. They looked like Mormons and they asked me something. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they had said, so I asked them to repeat. Again, I was dumbfounded. Not only did I not understand, I completely didn’t understand. There was not even a single word that I knew what they said and I couldn’t even figure out the context of the question. It was as good as being a foreign language to me.
Slightly embarrassed, I stood paused, before I heard the wonderful sound of footsteps coming down the stairs as Lewis was to save me from complete embarrassment. He had no trouble understanding them and it turned out they were people hired to check the insulation in every house. How could that conversation be so difficult?
Staying with Colin, Lewis and Mark was ideal. I got to meet three regular British (well, one Irish) blokes who loved a laugh, a pint and some football. I got to see some live music and watch a football game in a pub.
I was also able to explore alone when I wanted, and to socialise with them when I felt like it and because of that it made the experience all the more relaxed and enjoyable.
Oh, and I also got to beat Lewis at FIFA the day before I left.