September 13, 2008

Enduring a Passive-Aggressive CouchSurfing Host
Biharkeresztes, Hungary

Tatiana broke down in tears as soon as we'd gotten out onto the street. Baby strapped to her chest, I comforted her as best I could in the mid-morning sunlight. "We can leave right now if you want. We can just pack our bags, get on a bus, and be in another city by the nightfall. Just say the word and we're gone."

But she shook her head 'no', knowing full well what leaving would entail. It'd probably take her two hours to get everything back into her pack, plus waiting for unknown transport, plus travel time to some other city where we'd probably arrive after dark and likely pay through the nose for accommodation (all the while tending to Aidric's needs). She still had the bad taste in her mouth from what it was like hunting down a place to stay in Košice. No, she could wait one more night. Wait to see what onward plan I could come up with.

Communication and Onward Travel Difficulties

Desperate for Internet access in the village, I'd been doing some pretty extreme stuff in the early days of our stay here—like walking up and down the streets with Tataian's laptop open, looking for a wireless signal that I could tap into.

I'd nearly given up the notion of such things in the small community when I uncovered a diminutive library, and a free Internet connection within. The only problem was that it took a good twenty-something minutes to walk to the facility, and its open hours were generally limited. But there was Internet access, and with it I'd been able to intermittently plan our next CouchSurfing jump.

…or at least try as much.

I'd managed to do very little research before arriving at our current location, but did contact one promising profile on the 4th. The site reported the man had last logged in from France (profile last logged in from location is a feature of the site), and I'd e-mailed to ask him where he was at currently and if he could be a host to us.

The day we visited Oradea was the first time I'd had access to Internet since relocating. Internet access is a very critical part of the CouchSurfing lifestyle, and I suppose I made the best of the time that we had.

We'd received an optimistic e-mail from Sergiu Revitea on the 6th:

hello craig,

yes, i am in france, but just for another couple of days. i will be in romania starting the 12th of this month. if this is ok with you, please contact me! waiting news from you!

have a beautiful day!

sergiu

I replied to Sergiu a day after he'd written, and contacted an additional two relatively nearby profiles in Romania for good measure.

Ultimately, we'd never hear back from the 21-year-old Sergiu again. That was the last of his messages, despite a few from me. And as for the two female profiles that we contacted that day? One never responded while the other eventually replied that she was in Munich.

The Troubles with Teri

This all really started up with Teri five nights ago, when a pair of Germans and an old friend of hers were added to the household mix for a night. She was noticeably frazzled and overloaded during dinner, and certainly hasn't been the same since. Having five guests in the small home was clearly too much for her.

Two days after that night things started to go missing in the kitchen (that I always kept very clean for our hosts because they seemed the type). We could no longer find the pepper and hot sauce that was used regularly. A day after that the sugar and soy sauce went missing as well. Thursday the 11th was the last time either of us could remember seeing Aidric's little friend, Loco. What happened to the cat?

As the events of today unfolded it clearly painted the picture that Teri had been intentionally hiding these items from us—just another piece of the passive-aggressive behavior that she'd been exhibiting towards us at an alarming rate over the past few days.

Was she the kind of woman who'd kill the kitten just because Aidric enjoyed playing with him? We didn't know, but this Romanian country girl certainly seemed capable.

When Josef wasn't around she'd completely ignore us. He was gone on Thursday night, off on his weekly prosthetic limb client visit in NW Romania, during which time Teri practically locked herself in the bedroom. She started becoming more sarcastic and stopped eating the food that we'd taken the time to prepare for her so that she didn't have to cook.

We could feel what was going on—our increasing level of discomfort—and I'd tell Josef that we'd push on without a new host, but he'd say things like staying was no problem at all, that there no rush and plenty of space if anyone else comes, and to take as much time as we needed. The man always played with little Aidric and treated us with such a warm, jovial spirit that his hospitality often washed away anything I thought I was picking up from Teri.

CouchSurfing meeting in Oradea

I was quite ready to be out the door yesterday morning, but Josef asked us to stay on Wednesday night and made plans with us for Friday evening (last night, which turned out to be Oradea's first official CouchSurfing meeting).

Tatiana really wishes we'd brought our backpacks to the CouchSurfing meeting. Perhaps we should've (even though no one there was quite capable of hosting us this time), it would've been an appropriate time to say goodbye.

Feeling the intense awkwardness and discomfort from Teri is what drove us out of the house today, and Tatiana into tears. The statement "So when exactly are you planning on leaving?" directed towards me from Teri clearly set the tone for the day. (Josef was frowning at her in the background)

It'd become clear that Sergiu and the other profiles contacted earlier in the week weren't going to be getting back to us (favorably, at any rate), so yesterday I took it upon myself to contact over a dozen different profiles, scattered throughout SE Hungary and western Romania. Thursday night alone with Teri was the nail in the coffin—I knew we needed a host, and fast. I needed to play the numbers a bit better.

We packed up enough baby gear to stay out of the house for the entire day and left Josef and Teri to do the interior house construction that they typically busied themselves with on weekends. It was an agonizingly boring day, filled with a depressed Tatiana and wonder about our circumstances. There was absolutely nowhere to go and nothing to do or see.

Something like bowling

Making matters worse, the library was closed because of a special village sports day. It wouldn't reopen until Monday morning. News of this certainly didn't bring good tidings (as I needed to check the responses from yesterday's mass mailing ASAP so we could hopefully get the hell out of town).

We roamed aimlessly around the small highway village, and in so doing I got the idea to find the nicest street in town with the hopes that someone could afford (and have a reason to own) a wireless router.

Amazingly, I found one on just such a street, at the far opposite end of the village from where we were staying. The access point was even unencrypted for us—the best bit of luck we'd had in a while.

Martin, Our Savior, and Playing Mission Impossible

We'd received only one response in over 24 hours—depressingly pitiful. But that reply was from a man named Martin, and he turned out to be a true godsend.

Martin's reply was indeed favorable, and he'd even included his mobile number for good measure. We had our future host.

I spent the remaining minutes of Tatiana's laptop battery in the middle of that small street with a wide smile, writing down Romanian train schedules that could take us to his town—a solid six-plus hours away.

Needing a confirmation response from Martin for tomorrow's relocation, Josef and Teri took me in their car and drove to the spot on the street that I'd picked the signal up from. (Quite a scene, I assure you.)

Martin hadn't replied to my afternoon inquiry, so I was forced to make contact with his mobile number using Skype.

Adrenaline pumping, it felt like something straight out of Mission Impossible. Here I was sitting in the backset of a car with my laptop, anonymously using someone's wireless connection, and calling a Romanian cell phone with a microphone over the Internet. Freakin' wild.

Now I must admit, it was quite awkward to have this conversation with Josef and Teri sitting inches away. I could practically feel her jubilation when she overheard Martin accepting our request to arrive tomorrow.

That's fine, I was excited myself.

Postmortem

It's clear to me that a breakdown of communication has been the root cause for all this.

Teri never communicated to us properly about how she was feeling, instead opting to passive-aggressively attempt to make our stay less desirable. I've no doubt that she confided in her husband the about our continued presence, but Josef chose not to act on such things, and to make us the priority over her feelings.

My shortcomings were born from a lack of Internet access and inexperience with CouchSurfing. I'd allowed myself to become overly optimistic about a departure to Sergiu's place (or maybe one of the other two profiles contacted), and ended up overstaying our welcome because of it.

Incapable of spending the time I needed to research and correspond with potential hosts, I failed to contact enough people and hedge my bets properly (largely based on the positive response rates that I'd had from Eger). It really surprised me that 100% of the (three) people I contacted couldn't host us, or were replying to e-mails—essentially keeping us in a holding pattern in Biharkeresztes, waiting for an replies that never materialized.

I won't make this mistake again.

Update: Sometime Later

For the general knowledge, I thought I'd share the final results from the 13 CouchSurfing profiles contacted on the 12th. Perhaps the acceptance percentages and reply delays from this sample size can help me forecast what can be expected in the future:

  • Number of profiles that did not reply: 4
  • Number of profiles that declined to host us: 4
  • Number of profiles that accepted to host us: 5
  • Failure Rate: 61.5%

Considering how much time I took to whittle down a large lists potential hosts, I find this failure rate to be pretty disheartening. Some people accepted our inquiry but specified a duration of only for one or two nights (this might as well count towards a rejection). A handful turned us down with little explanation (but at least had the decency to respond), while others took the time to say why:

Hello Craig, Tatiana and aidric!!!!

I have read through your profile and i am very very impressed! You definitely are the kind of persons i'd love to met, but unfortunately i can not host now, because until you arrive here, i'll be quite far away from here. i'll be going to austria for university, so i won't be here to host you :(

anyway , i hope you have a really wonderful and interesting experience in romania, enjoy your stay and good luck! and greetings to small aidric, who is sooooo sweet:)

best wishes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

maria

The dates in which replies were received, and their response:

  1. 12th: Yes
  2. 12th: No
  3. 14th: Yes
  4. 14th: Yes
  5. 15th: Yes
  6. 16th: No
  7. 18th: No
  8. 19th: No
  9. 22nd: Yes

This information stresses how important it is to make contact with people well in advance before you'll need them as a host, and that once you pass the three-day mark the likelihood plummets that you'll receive a positive response.

There are exceptions to this though. Our previous hosts Nora and Róbert were on vacation when I initially contacted them and then got back to me well over a week later, but it's pretty safe to stay that you'll need to line up your next host well in advance if you think you'll only be staying at your upcoming location for three nights or less. Communication takes times, and often several correspondences are needed to hammer out the details.

Unfortunately what this ultimately has taught me is not to be less selective with potential hosts, but to approach a greater number of them in order to see results (diminishing the quality of the initial contact, often in favor of less personal / more generic e-mails). Not unlike picking women up at a bar at a nightclub, the more you approach, the better your chances are for success.

Comments:

The United States

Roosh

November 16th, 2008

"Not unlike picking women up at a bar at a nightclub, the more you approach, the better your chances are for success."

Hah I was itching to comment about that but you beat me to it.

I wonder if with time and experience you'll be able to look at a CS profile and tell your odds of being accepted.

Colombia

Fly Brother

November 23rd, 2008

Disheartening experience; but I'll say that I've contacted CouchSurfers at the very last minute in Brazil about crashing at their places and had quick, positive responses. I definitely think there's something to be said about the culture of a place when computing the failure/success rate of CS. Insightful post!

The United Kingdom

Jack from eyeflare travel tips

November 27th, 2008

There's a definite need to get in touch in advance on Couchsurfing. My wife and I live in London, and as you can imagine we get mobbed with requests. However, because we're both busy, anyone asking for a stay within the week is summarily rejected as there's usually something going on. As is anyone that obviously just wants a free hostel to crash in. I've done more hosting than surfing, and it's a big deal to have someone come into your home. If it doesn't work out, it's very very stressful. Clear communication is always key, with arrivals details and departure days of absolute importance. Hope you have better luck with the future hosts, sounds like you ended up in a really confusing and difficult situation for all involved.

The United Kingdom

Billy Idol Love You

November 27th, 2008

I hope you 3 do OK! Isnt It Great! xxxxx

Germany

Thomas

December 2nd, 2008

You should visit Berlin because we are the main city of Couchsurfing :-)
Oh and maybe just visit my site:
http://www.couchsurfing-host.com

The United States

jt

December 28th, 2008

This makes me feel better. I was starting to take the non-responses, and no's I've been receiving on CS personally. Thank you.

Denmark

Kasper

January 4th, 2009

Hi - well I don't quite understand all of this. I have been Couchsurfing a number of times and hosted around 10 people now. And honestly it's very normal not to get responses from more than 30% and for me it's a pretty obvious thing that you have to be writing to people well in advance (a couple weeks) if you want to be sure to find a place - it's totally normal and understandable to me. I normally write to 10-20 people before I go somewhere and I do it at couple of weeks in advance. Personally I don't have time to answer every request and have to say no to many… that's just normal - I have a life on my own and so does everyone else out there. I sounds like you have a not too good experience obviously with your host and I hope that you'll have only positive ones in the future. Better luck with your Couchsurfing from now on! Kasper

The United States

fusskins

February 4th, 2009

Strangers let you stay at their home with a baby? I am shocked by that. I admit I'm wary of the whole couchsurfing thing, but that is the strangest part of the whole story to me.

The United States

Thomas A

March 18th, 2009

What happened to the cat? That is the saddest part of this story to me. Please tell me you found the kitty and he/she is ok.

Syria

Craig | travelvice.com

March 18th, 2009

Little Loco was never seen from again. My guess is that she tossed him from the window of a moving car… or worse.

Canada

Rebecca

June 16th, 2009

Killing a kitty and other passive-aggressive behavior is bad, but I'm not sure why the burden was on this woman to communicate more clearly that she didn't want you there; maybe you should have asked her instead. You were the guest.

Romania

Josef Teri's husbend

June 18th, 2009

Hi. For those who want to find out what happend to the kitty I'll tell you the truth. We planed not to keep the kitty, one cat was enough at our house, (and the truth is that CILU the big cat was my cat for more then 10 years and I loved her unfortunately she dissapeared just before X-mas last year and haven't seen her since WE do miss her)so we knew that we'll give it away to someone. We never kept none of our cat's kitty, we found host for every one of them. Exept this kitty. So what happend to him? One morning when Teri came to work she took the kitty with her and left it somewhere on the way to Oradea in someones backyard. I am sure the kitty is ok even today and he find himself some nice people to adopt him. Trust me Teri would never kill the kitty even if she was upset.
Sorry guys.

China

Zictor

June 24th, 2009

I have to say that it amazes me how Craig criticises Teri and doesn't even try to understand that she was opening his house for him for free.
True, that you don't need to be a bad host just because you opened your house, but still, she did open her house for you.

Anyway, I think that even though there are 2 sides in each conflict, the person have to bear the burden of overstaying their welcome, especially if it is beyond a date that has been previously agreed on.

The way you wrote it kinda frames Teri as a villain, assuming she killed the kitty just because of Aidric, that was a little too much.

@fusskins: Well, that is an effort to bring people together, and as soon as I have a bigger place I will start doing it again.

Switzerland

Benjamin

February 17th, 2010

Sorry to dig out this old story, but if this was such a nightmare, why the hell did you leave a positive reference? That's not really the point of the reference system, is it? Leaving a positive reference and then venting about the hosts on your website…

Canada

Kyle Archer

May 22nd, 2010

I was wondering the same, why on earth did you leave a positive reference on the profile - this undermines the whole concept of references.

Do you want to submit another traveler to what you went through?

profile: http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/kylearcher/

Peru

Craig | travelvice.com

May 23rd, 2010

@Benjamin & @Kyle:
I can see from your profile there that you've got some good CouchSurfing experience under your belt, but the CS feedback system is flawed. Much like how many buyers on eBay were essentially being blackmailed into leaving positive feedback for sellers (out of fear of receiving negative feedback themselves as punishment), so too does CS suffer from the same affliction.

I think many CS'ers, ourselves included, feel that negative feedback can only hurt you. There's a lack of reward or motivation for "doing the right thing" for the community. The vast majority of users just don't leave feedback when they've nothing nice to say.

I left positive feedback for Josef because we thought he was a fantastic host. It wasn't his fault his wife went off the deep end.

Taiwan

Adam

July 27th, 2010

for someone at a place called 'travelvice,' you seem pretty clueless about the norms of couchsurfing, and maybe human interaction generally. My reading of this is that Teri didn't want you there and her husband didn't want to be rude. Also, anyone traveling with a child should have a backup plan in place at all times. You should never put the burden on your hosts to host you beyond what they're comfortable with, no matter how many meals you're cooking for them.

Teri may have not been as direct as she should have been (although maybe her husband wasn't allowing her to be), but this is not "passive-aggressive behavior," she did not "go off the deep end," and she does not deserve you joking that she's a cat murdered because she clammed up when you (admittedly!) overstayed your welcome.

Get a hotel next time.

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