This past week and a half, I’ve had the pleasure of hosting one of the people I met when I was in Poland back in February, and I have the bags under my eyes to prove it. I met Ania at a Couchsurfing party in Warsaw, and we stayed in touch afterwards. Soon, she sent me a Facebook message asking me if I could host her when she would come to visit New York City.
I happily accepted, not only because she was such a cool and amazing person (I don’t know how I came to that conclusion after a night of eating vodka-saturated gummi bears), but also for the opportunity to show someone my hometown.
I love New York City with all my heart, and I always seek out any way to plug it and show it off. After I accepted Ania’s request, from back in the middle of March, I set about planning all the different sights, restaurants, shops, and other places to take her. As this was my first real Couchsurfing experience as a host, I wasn’t familiar with the standard operating procedure. I guess I should have just simply provided her with her room, and maybe let take her to a dinner or for drinks, but nope; I spent every hour outside of work and my bedroom with her.
This couchsurfing experience was not the traditional one, though I don’t have many under my belt to really be able to talk. Usually couchsurfing involves a “surfer” staying with a host, enabling them to experience life as it is lived by the locals and natives, as opposed to being encapsulated in a luxurious bubble such as when one stays at a hotel.
When I had my last travel to Warsaw, I stayed with Sonia and her lovely mother, who showed me the local scenes and took me to the market to buy groceries, exactly as they would have done without me there. I got to try the food – delicious, home-cooked meals that were quintessentially Polish. This time, however, I am hosting someone in New York City, so how to show her that quintessential New York City lifestyle? We New Yorkers live a million different realities; we are immigrants from every country and culture on Earth.
Well, the best that I could do was to show her my portion of New York. New York City isn’t cheap, so a couchsurfing experience here without spending some money would be antithetical. New York is nothing if not constantly, viciously evolving; speed and efficiency embody the underlying culture of achievement and hard work that cuts across all racial and socioeconomic borders. And then there’s Sunday brunch – an institution here in New York City if there ever was one.
The first night she came, which, thanks to LOT Polish Airlines, was really early Saturday morning, she decided that she wanted to start getting the “real American experience” immediately: we rented a Camaro instead of taking a cab or train back to my apartment. I told her that this was wrong on two levels, one being that a New York experience is completely different than the American experience, and the other being that a Camaro was the least popular car in New York, but she was too giddy to take heed.
The next day (the same day, just after sleeping), we got up and toured around while we still had the car. We ate, we took photos, we ate some more. Each day throughout the week, after I got back from work, we’d meet up and find a place to eat. We didn’t plan much, as we decided to just stumble across a restaurant by accident. There wasn’t a single bad experience.
I showed Ania many of the must-see shops, such as Macy’s and Sak’s, or she found them on her own while I was working. Ania got to witness the fast-paced lifestyle of being a New Yorker firsthand; each day and night were jam-packed with activities and things to do and see.
We schlepped around the neighborhoods of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Jackson Heights, Flatbush, SoHo, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Coney Island, Greenwich Village, Union Square, Times Square, Herald Square, FiDi, Battery Park, Elmhurst, the East Village, the West Village, and all other villages in between. There was dancing to Cuban salsa, shopping at thrift stores in the ‘burg following purchases at Sak’s, and beautiful vistas from every possible vantage.
In the end, the week went by like a blur. I drank too much and slept too little to relay each event in detail, but maybe that’s better. I felt like a kid again, like a stranger in a new city. Though I’ve lived here for most of my life, accompanying someone in my own city who has that raw sense of wonder really allowed me to see it from a new and totally fresh perspective.
Dziękuję Ania, for the best first-time hosting experience possible!
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