I’m standing in my kitchen listening to a loud, harried conversation in French. Rubber gloves to my elbows, holding an IKEA plate, I can’t help but smile and try to hide it. Internally, I am laughing at the comedy in my life.
To paint a picture: This middle aged man (his name is Serge) is standing in my postage stamp-sized kitchen, a relic from the ‘40s. He may or may not be wearing a shirt. My memory escapes me but throughout his visit he is constantly shirtless, belly protruding. He’s definitely missing a tooth. Serge is also in his 40s, maybe 50s, I can’t tell. He’s talk-shouting at his wife Paulette, who insists on having rapid, long and continuous conversations with me despite the fact I cannot understand her and she cannot understand me. I might be trying to help them secure the location of Universal Studios in their Garmin (also in French and also a task as the entire setup is different than I remember mine being). Paulette is sweet. She wears a black t-shirt with sparkly letters spelling “LAS VEGAS”. She’s blonde and her eye makeup reminds me of the Sphinx, and you can tell she was once a beauty–what am I saying? She still is.
This couple initially flummoxed me, for a few reasons. I’ve been an AirBNB host for nearly a year, since my sister decided inexplicably to move to New York with her girlfriend Chloe and I found myself once again dealing with the prospect of another roommate. My sister had been the ideal living situation: Never There. Did not spend even one night at my place, such was the fervor of her love. It was heaven, not that I don’t love my sister. When she told me she was moving, I was crushed. Ten years of fluctuating roommates is enough to turn anyone off. I’ve lived with queens, stoners, sorority girls, models, people who are messy, psychotic, medicated, liars, thieves, drug-addicts, the religious and neurotic. (I’ve had some really great roommates, too.)
ANYWAY. I decided after a month of living alone in my two-bedroom house that I would rent the extra room on AirBNB. I have no idea how I initially heard of AirBNB, but I had used it once as a traveler when I was in Shreveport, Louisiana, and that was enough to convince me I could trust it.
Serge and Paulette were bizarre to me for a few reasons. One, they spoke not a word of English. That’s exaggerating. They spoke three words of English. Translation was rough. Most of my guests speak some English or are totally fluent. And if they don’t speak it well they are usually embarrassed and we talk very little. (My guests are overwhelmingly foreign. Maybe because this destination happens to be Hollywood and it’s not your typical American family hotspot, I don’t know, but I’ve had guests from Germany, China, Korea, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Czech Republic, England, Mexico, Russia, Sweden, Greece, Taiwan, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, and on. It is rare that I will have an American guest.) Two, Serge and Paulette had no problem whatsoever barging into my personal space (my bedroom). I leave my bedroom door open because of my animals, or I leave it ajar I should say, and most of my guests are very gun-shy about crossing the threshold. They knock or they speak to me hesitantly through the cracked door. This was a completely new experience. The first night of our mutual residence (I was out of town when they arrived), Paulette came into my bedroom and sat on my bed, French flying. At some point Serge also came in and we tried to understand each other as I explained to them various aspects of street parking and exits on the freeway. They also smoked like chimneys (granted out of doors) and occasionally changed clothes with the door open.
I spoke to my friend Kate about this. She tells me: “Yes, French people don’t care of rudeness or politeness. They don’t catch social cues, think nothing of nudity and smoke like chimneys while blathering on on French… That’s why the English hate them… Everyone likes French ‘things’ lol. Nobody actually likes the French.”
This is not a diatribe against the French. At all. When I visited Europe five years ago, Paris was my favorite of all the places I went. In fact, having Serge and Paulette here inspires me to pick back up my ripped copy of Rosetta Stone and get back on the “learning-French” kick, because I do in fact want to live there some day. Also, Serge and Paulette have totally grown on me. My initial blanche at their two-week stay has more than waned. They’re very sweet, they are very much themselves and they love my cats, which for me is huge. Any guest who appreciates my animals, I am immediately on their side. Also, they are clean.
This article is more a way to share my experiences, which are varied and mostly positive. Every guest is different. It is a total crapshoot. The ones I have been the most wary of have usually turned out to be the ones I remember with most fondness. For example: A six-year-old boy from Beijing and his mother and grandmother. (What can I say? It was my first kid and I was nervous.) But they were adorable, also barely spoke English, but super sweet and loved my baby Puffy. Especially the little boy. He went crazy over these cats. Also, they all slept in the same bed, which I thought was adorable.
But some of my guests are totally weird. We barely speak, some I never even meet. Not weird in the sense that I feel unsafe, weird in the sense, this is awkward. By and large, they are all clean and all considerate. The perks of not dealing with a roommate, AKA one person all the time and their particular endless baggage: Fucking amazing. The cleaning of my house, which is constant: A great lesson in maturity. I have historically been a total slob. A combination of laziness, a disorganized brain and a complete lack of appreciation for how much work goes into keeping a home. (My mom spoiled me.) Now, like it or not, with every new guest (which can be anywhere from every 3 days to once every month and a half, although it ranges typically in the 5-7 day range and I never go beyond 2 weeks without cleaning, [it drives me crazy now]), I spend 1.5 to 2 hours cleaning my entire house. Doing laundry, vacuuming the living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, swiffering floors, scrubbing toilets, showers, countertops, bathtub, doing dishes, replacing toilet paper, towels, etc., etc. I have a whole routine. And daily there is always maintenance. Top two rules for living: Always clean your dishes right after you use them and keep your bathroom counter clean. It takes the extra few minutes, but is huge in making you feel like a person.
Another perk of AirBNB: I get way more compensation than a roommate would give me, for little extra effort, and I make the rules. But, I do get the same question over and over again: “How do you do it? How do you let strangers into your home? Don’t they steal, don’t they mess it up? What if they kill you? I could never do it…” Do I fear for my life? Totally. There is no way of proving that a psychopath won’t guest at my home and I won’t be on the receiving end of some horrible, terrifying, E! True Hollywood murder story. I do worry about that. But I don’t worry about it that much… I’m in it for the perks. Money and the occasional rewarding, cool experience. And most importantly, not having to deal with a roommate. For that, I will sacrifice a potentially excruciating death.
I look at it as an honor thing. Most people who use AirBNB recognize it for what it is: a great service. The opportunity to stay with locals, spend less money and have a kitchen! And also, a more authentic experience. But as far as traveling goes, it is the cheapest way. With the exception being (maybe) a hostel. Depends on what city you are in. But hotels, forget about it. The hotel industry is up in arms, much like the taxi-cab industry with ride-shares like Uber, but in reality: They can fuck off. They charge way too much. AirBNB has made traveling cheaper, more attainable and more community-based. (And I pay taxes.) With the travel trend on the rise, especially among Millennials, this is good. (I will also note that at least 80% of my guests are in their 20s.) So as part of an “honor thing,” I’m counting on my guests not to kill me. Fingers crossed.
But back to Serge and Paulette. There is also the question of how cat poop ended up in my kitchen sink (a first). When I showed Paulette she immediately gave me a stink face (we communicate largely through charades-like gestures) and said “No, no, no,” repeatedly. My suspicion is my brand new kitty, who we also got the same week Serge and Paulette stayed, is the culprit. She has insane jumping powers unlike those of my previous cats and… yeah. She shit in the sink. Although, my first thought was that Serge or Paulette had seen the poop and then disposed of it in the sink… Which would have been weird. Yet another thing that will never happen to you in a hotel!
ANYWAY. Our mutual trip is ending. In five days they will fly home to the South of France and I will welcome a new guest–someone probably clean, accented and not a psycho-killer. Probably. Fingers still crossed.