Disclaimer: This post contains mild profanity, and although I could have included much more, I stuck to the bare minimum. If this makes you uncomfortable, you can either suck it up or stop reading. And absolutely never participate in couchsurfing.
The stares were piercing. The glares were frequent.
How did I end up with my best friend Kimberly, two Polish girls in a restaurant in Porto trading sex for a fridgerator while seventeen Portuguese 20-year-olds locked their eyes at me in disgust?
It all started with a guy named Fox.
You may recall that we tend to pick the winners.
Taking Bla Bla Car from Santiago de Compostela to the vibrant city of Porto in northern Portgual, our ride sharing driver set us up to stay with her childhood friend. She warned us he was a bit of a womanizer, but after living in Ibiza I felt there was nothing I couldn’t handle.
You’ve heard what I think of couchsurfing. Either a hit or miss. Either the guy annoys the shit out of you or he invites you to spend carnival with his family and makes you the guest of honor.
I’m not sure where our time with Fox fits into that assessment.
Somewhere between entertaining and painful.
Once arrived at Fox’s, we heard there was a birthday party that night. Always interested in getting a cultural experience, I was happy to hear we were in the clear to go with him. I assumed it was at a bar and there would be a lot of people- otherwise it wouldn’t be appropriate to bring his guests.
We- meaning Kimberly and two other Polish girls also staying at his house- got presentable (as presentable as one can be after walking the Camino de Santiago) and went to meet up with Fox’s friend, who he told me was named “Bebe,” and headed off to the venue.
I thought it was odd his friends name was Bebe. After all, this means “baby” in Portuguese. I didn’t say anything for fear of being labeled culturally insensitive.
The six of us, including Bebe (not sure what his real name is), approached an unmarked building that appeared to be a kebab shop next to Pakistani liquor shop where drunk youth clearly frequented. There was no bar near us. There was neither an explanation from Fox of what we were doing or what to expect.
We looked up as a few boys started shouting at us from the second story window of the “kebab shop” building. Because Fox didn’t flinch, we brushed it off. Straight hoodlums.
More waiting around prompted more uncertainty.
“Are we going in there?” “Who are they?” “What are we doing?”
So many questions, so few answers.
Then we walked into the shop/restaurant. Assuming we had indeed arrived at the right place and were there for the party, I asked Fox what the birthday boy’s name was. “Dodo,” he said. I’m still unsure if that’s correct or not.
As we walked in, we sauntered up to the second floor where we coincidently passed several other large tables filled with Portuguese youth.
I suddenly became nervous. It hit me that this was not a bar. There would be no dancing, no loud music, and no drinking. This was a sit down dinner party. For a man named Dodo. A man I had never met before.
It felt like too intimate of a setting to be crouching in on.
Wearing mom jeans, Birkenstocks, and a conservative white (but with greenish a tint- a product of being thrown in the wash with colors) short-sleeved shirt, I approached the table. Although I was dressed for a children’s play date and they could be in an Ibiza VIP section, I put on a smile and confidently greeted the group.
I was confronted by a table of boys, split between looking like hipsters and frat stars, and a smaller group of girls a la Kim Kardashian. The Kim K lookalikes had dark, shiny hair to the asses, tight white pant suits, copious amounts of makeup and bronzed skin.
“Happy birthday, Dodo!” I shrieked.
Graciously, the birthday boy greeted us. The others (not to be confused with the horror movie of the same name), however, stared motionless. Silent. Not even one smile.
I slowly retreated, the other foreigners in solidarity with me. We were seated at the end, in a round table pushed up to a long, 10 person rectangular table.
It comes to our attention that no one (claims to) speak English or Spanish, and our lack of Portuguese cut us off from verbal understanding.
It was us four foreigners, with none of our linguistic capabilities proving useful, facing the group that had been best friends for life (although their odd social cues didn’t appear to speak to their closeness).
As we sat separate but not equal with an at least 6 person gap between us and them, I sensed an immense air of boredom among the guests. The kardashians texted. Then looked up. Then looked down. Then looked at each other. The boys banging on the windows puffed away at their cigarettes, aimlessly staring off into the distance, occasionally screaming.
The only person we felt comfortable speaking to was Bebe, who looked uncomfortable every time I called out his (fake) name.
Trying to break the unbearable silence (the silence of our table felt even more apparent compared to the rambunctious group behind us, whose speech and cheering seemed to communicate a sense of unconditional love and complete and utter bliss), I decided to throw out a compliment. I don’t like it when girls get competitive and unfriendly with each other.
“You are beautiful, like Kim Kardashian,” I decided to say to whichever Kardashian would acknowledge my presence.
Kim K #2 scowled and said, “THANKS,” in a dramatic and not very thankful voice.
I’m still not sure how she took the compliment, and although the foreigners in my prison cell of a side table thought it was a nice thing to say, Fox’s “that wasn’t a compliment” made me reconsider if that was a wise choice.
By this point it was 12am. As we had arrived around 10pm as some of the earliest guests, we had the great pleasure of being stared at by all those who came in after us.
“Who the fuck are those weird looking girls?” I imagine crossed through their mind.
Although dinner still hadn’t been served, there were at least a few appetizers and a few more people to entertain with my faux-sensual bread eating. It’s really interesting to see how people react to a pale, blue-eyed foreigner in a neon green tinted shirt and mom jeans seductively ripping off pieces of bread from the roll.
Then, one detail changed everything.
The binge drinking that ensued ushered in a period of loud screaming, smacking the table, throwing food, being quieted down by angry waiters, and obvious competition between the multiple parties happening at the same time. I was more convinced than ever that I was reliving my pre-prom dinner from 2009.
Yet, despite the excitement, no one seemed to want to know more about our attendance than they could gather from glancing at us, or glancing then whispering, followed by a confused look on their faces.
One of the boys sitting on the window caught my eye. His scruffy beard, light eyes and dark skin reminded me of a Jordanian classmate I had in high school. In passing I mentioned to Fox that I thought he was cute.
In a normal encounter, your couchsurfing host would have laughed and moved on.
But I didn’t realize who Fox was
Somehow, “he’s cute” morphed into a misconstrued telephone message resembling “I want to fuck that guy” and being passed around to all ears at the table.
And somehow, the telephone gave communicated that I also was interested in making sure Fox would get a refrigerator out of the deal (also comes out that Fox is obsessed with Borat).
The boredom I saw at the beginning of the night had subsided and I became the new prey. All eyes on me, the following moments were an overwhelming uproar of whisper, more stares, and guests pointing to the boy and mouthing to me “do you want to fuck him?!”
Partly to be more outrageous and partly just because I wasn’t really sure what else to do, I stared at one of cute guys’ friends and mouthed back, “Yeah, I want to fuck him.”
As soon as I said/mouthed it, I saw out of the corner of my eye the face of one of the more conservative looking female guests. Her jaw dropped to the floor and in one swift jerking motion she swiveled 180 degrees in her chair and reenacted what had just happened to the Kim Ks who had missed it.
Somehow the next few seconds went from awkward silence to everyone singing “Happy Birthday” in English.
For the rest of the night, the foreigners and I were suddenly best friends with the Portuguese. Apparently all it takes is a little couchsurfing host pimping you out with “comical misogyny” to break down barriers.
Let’s all be friends! Also, Allison, have sex with that dude. And get me a new domestic appliance!
At the end of the night, it was revealed that the coldness towards us was partly caused by general lack of information on why we were there.
Instead of explaining who we were and what couchsurfing was, Fox answers affirmative to all questions.
“Are those girls your tinder dates?”
“Are those girls prostitutes?”
“Are those girls you found on the street?”
There seemed to be a pattern with this man.
So many questions, so few answers.
In spite of all the unanswered interrogatives, one thing was clear. We had yet again chosen a great couchsurfing host.
What have your couchsurfing experiences been like? Have they been similar to Pitbull and Fox?