Couchsurfing: Surfers are shared here

Niš, Serbia, November 2011

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I jump up smiling from my chair when I read the E-mail. “Miloš has accepted us for tomorrow or Saturday!” I am very happy to have found a last-minute-host in Niš. I show his profile to Roberto. “He seems really nice and easy going”, he agrees. We do not know Miloš and he does not know us. Anyway he invited us to sleep in his house for three days. Thanks to couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing is one of the biggest so-called hospitality-organizations. 3 million people have their profile on www.couchsurfing.org. In the profile they explain their personality, interests and living-situation. The members want to meet people from all over the world.

Travelling we look up the cities that we are going to visit on our trip. We read if there are members compatible to our needs, who offer a couch or just want to meet for tea and coffee. Then we write an e-mail to them. If those members, called “hosts”, have time, space and think that we are nice, they offer us a couch to sleep on. If a host does not have time, space in the house or does not like the characteristics of a surfer asking for a sofa, he is always free to decline any couch requests.

Our host Miloš

Once a “surfer” meets a host they can go out together, teach each other knitting, dancing, cooking or practice their foreign language skills. They can spend much time together or little. Hosts can show their surfers around or not, offer a whole room, only a small shared sofa or just some time to chat without a place for the night, everything is okay. In www.warmshowers.org, a similar but smaller organization for touring cyclists, hosts can also offer only a place to camp in the garden. There are no costs, neither for the organization nor for hosts or surfers. Everything is voluntarily, but a chocolate bar for the host would not go bad either.

Until now we have had great experiences surfing and hosting in www.couchsurfing.org and www.warmshowers.org but the community we got to know in Niš is a special one. There are more than 140 couchsurfers in Niš; 55 of them can currently host people. Thanks to our host Miloš we got to know many of them.

On our way to Niš we write a message to Miloš telling him that we will arrive in about 2-3 hours and immediately he creates a last-minute couchsurfers-meeting for all the members of the town. Ten of Niš’s most active couchsurfers make it. They are curious about Mexican food, music and culture, about our opinion of their city and their country and about German non-commercial punk music and we are curious about the Serbian culture and the everyday-life in Niš. There is a lot to talk. We chat until it is late and decide to meet again on the following day to cook Mexican Chilaquiles for everybody.

Annika working in the kitchen / guest room.

We meet at Miloš’s place and start talking. Maria grabs some beans and complains to Miloš: “You remember the two French girls you had last year? I was so jealous, I wanted to host them!” Maria speaks French, English, Spanish and Serbian and is always happy to find somebody to practice it with. “Yes, me too.” says Marco, “They were really nice.” Maria laughs: “Yes, you always want to host girls don’t you?” “I wouldn’t care for guys either, but there are only girls writing me, I don’t know why!” he laughs. “I always wanted a couple, couples are the best.” Marco goes on. The entire group nods their heads. Roberto and I look at each other. “Are we?” I ask surprised. The discussion starts, everybody has some experiences with men, women and couples. We have only had two couch requests in Bremen, two girls who wanted to sleep somewhere before taking their flight early in the next morning. We hardly got to know them in the short time.

In Niš couchsurfing is still what it is planned to be: a cultural exchange project. Miloš introduces us to many of the active surfers and our schedule in Niš is full. Arrive on Saturday early afternoon, go to a bar with the group on Saturday evening, Chilaquiles for everybody Sunday noon, tea in an Indian café in the afternoon, See the city with Sanja, who wants to practice her German Monday at noon, Spanish-practice with Maria in the late afternoon, everybody-brings-some-food-dinner with youtube-karaoke Monday night.

Miloš, Katarina and Roberto

Tuesday night we offer mental support and loud cheering for Maria who takes part on a Karaoke-competition. “So one of us is hosting and the others can still meet the surfers and get to know them”, Miloš explains me. It is as if the entire group shares the guests. We are impressed. Everybody seems to be happy to have some guests and to present them to the group.

When we leave Miloš is sad. So are we. Miloš’s aunt cries a little, his mother gives us some chocolate and a big hug and our friend Katarina comes to say goodbye by the train station. For us Niš has only been another city on the way to Southeast. Now it is a place where we can come back, call some friends and share a meal with them.

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