Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Be My Guest

I have had a few friends stay with me over the last few years, but I wouldn't consider myself as coming from a culture of regular guests. In 'I Am Malala', Malala Yousafzai describes the difference in culture from her home in Swat, Pakistan. Since her shooting, her family has been relocated to Birmingham in the UK. Her mother struggles with the absence of a full home of guests. Malala grew up struggling to find space to do her homework etc. In a country where more people have their own rooms, there is space, but fewer guests. I know Malala's mothers issue is also one of being an immigrant in a country where she knows very few people and has language barriers. It did however make me think of how we have outsourced entertainment. We eat at restaurants and stay at hotels. Again, this is partly because I (like Malala's mom) am an immigrant although I don't have the language or culture barriers. If I lived where I grew up, perhaps I would still have more people just popping over and vice versa. As Global Citizens, we are all spread out and so you can't do just the half hour cup of tea visit.

I stayed with some friends last night who told me they had joined www.couchsurfing.com. They have been hosts but have not yet been guests. The idea is based on a Gift Economy. People are offered accommodation by the host. There is no expectation of anything in return. In theory, the person staying could be an uberguest and cook the host a few meals, and perhaps even do some odd jobs around the house. You can't expect anything in return otherwise that just becomes a price. How many yoga lessons or bedtime stories read equals one nights accommodation? I don't know how often uberguests actually turn up. In a market economy we are able to buy what we want. We can't buy time from friends and family though. You can't phone up a buddy and book a two week stay. You can ask. If you have the confidence, and you don't think they will feel awkward being asked. What is the etiquette when everyone thinks differently? 

The advantage of something having a fixed price is it takes haggle out of the equation. Some cultures like a little haggle, but by fixing the price polite introverts don't subsidise aggressive extroverts. It means you know you don't owe anyone anything. It was a fair exchange. The downside of prices being available for most things is we get out of the habit of asking for things where there isn't a clear equitable exchange. A 'haggle culture' presumably requires you to get comfortable at negotiations. You need to build up the confidence to ask for things you want. You need to be able to accept a no graciously. You need to be able to give a no politely.

One of my more awesome house guests stayed for about three weeks and even though I love having my own space I was very sad to see him go. I almost didn't notice he was there a lot of the time, but he seemed to magically appear when I felt like company. He cooked meals a few times and there were almost no traces that I had a guest as he cleaned up after himself. It is amazing how when you have people staying with you, their dirty dishes often rankle much more than your own. Not everyone is that awesome though. Someone told me their rule for house guests was 'First night I cook, Second night you cook, Third day is for goodbyes'. The dynamics of spending a few hours with someone are very different from spending a few days. A few weeks is a whole different story. We all have our own funny living quirks. Families have to compromise and get used to each other. Friends have the advantage of seeing each other in neutral venues if one is OCD tidy and the other is a slob.

Getting comfortable at having uncomfortable conversations may be the answer. For others, they may be quite happy just paying for whatever they want. Different strokes for different folks.

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