Couchsurfing reveals itself to Michael Phoenix in Denmark’s capital city


Paulí was awkward. Often it takes a while to figure out a persons characteristics, viagra but awkwardness is an exception, it’s worn like a colour. We met him at a cafe in the heart of Denmark. He saw us and we saw him, it was obvious and as that moment of recognition was born he put his head down, walked clean past us and on for about twenty paces, then stopped, held his back to us for a moment, then spun round like a wound up top, and grinned. We waved out to him and in reply he threw his head back first, then forward, leant his eyes towards us across the distance, threw a pale hand up at the air, and shook it furiously. Our first ever couchsurfing host. Adorned with with the geekish flair of a 12-year old comic book explorer. He our stranger for the weekend, we his.

Couchsurfing began as an experiment and has continued as such through the eight years of its existence. Within that time it has changed from a not-for-profit to a for-profit company sparking ethical revolts among its most loyal users; faced and withstood and defeated heinous propaganda in its early days and still now; dealt with the demands of accelerated growth and exploding popularity; survived irrevocable data loss that threatened the entire project with the falling of a fatal blow; and mourned one sad incident in a cold English town that contradicted everything couchsurfing is about. Its self professed goal is to create inspiring experiences.

Paulí shifted his feet nervously and filled the space between us with his own rapid fire version of perfect english. We smiled and replied and searched around us for conductors as the subway reached its destination. Free riding on the metro should be neither recommended or frowned upon, it is as foolish as it is defiant. The glass doors parted silently and Copenhagen air rushed.

Denmark’s capital is a slow explosion that pulls you in until you seem part of its evolving action. It’s full of cobbles and bars mixed as cafés and crowds surging quietly. Each district is different; most are beautiful. By 2015, municipal policy dictates that all Copenhagen citizens must be able to reach a park or beach by foot in less than 15 minutes – like much of northern Europe, things are done differently. We spent three nights at Paulí’s as we explored the city. He wasn’t a local, but he was close. As he told us, he was born in Greenland, but Denmark was his home.

We arrived at his apartment. Couchsurfing opens doors. Paulí disappeared into the kitchen and we heard him pull at the fridge to widen its window; grabbed at bottles clinked then and there was a bang amongst a frame as something slammed shut. He returned and placed three cold local beers before us, we cracked open and held up for a toast to all being here tonight as everything relaxed. We were to have the double bed, he was going to take the couch. He was a good person, like every couchsurfer I’ve come across.

The concept and reasoning is simple. One of the most significant barriers to traveling are expenses. One of the main reasons why it is so expensive are accommodation costs. Despite its recent change to a ‘for-profit’ company, there are essentially no fees in couchsurfing. People offer up their couch or bed or mattress or floor, for free. There is a prevalent modern assumption that people must have an incentive for doing something, that the selfless act is a fallacy. The belief that this is not the case, which is held amongst couchsurfers, creates a pre existing thread between host and surfer upon which the relationship is based. This grounding allows couchsurfing to work; it allows you to engage with a new culture in your living room; it allows you to express your own culture. It could be said that this is the incentive, but if it is it is an incentive of a different definition: there are no winners or losers here, instead there is a balance. Couchsurfers are a minority, but within that minority the belief is held that there is something very valuable within the very act of offering, as it may appear, something for nothing.

I stirred the pasta whilst she worked on the sauce, Paulí was singing in the living room. Big foreign operatic words. I set the table and she served the food. The three of us sat down with the open window selling us the sounds of Copenhagen streets. She jumped up and to the fridge for the forgotten bottle. In a second there are glasses and a smell and the sound of pouring. During the days Paulí gave us space, and in that we all grew more comfortable and so when we came together again in the evenings it was with racing plans for the night ahead, and with stories of mad places in our lives we would each describe for ears that had never heard that sort before.

It seemed like the whole of the city was there on that street. An endless snaking weave of bodies pressed in every direction between crackling open door bars and pseudo-shut up blockaded hotels. Crazy danish slang mixed with fever pitch youth tourism amongst the shattering down of beer bottles and the absolute ease of it all. Paulí guided us along grinning that same grin he had met us with. He knew it all as normal, as a Copenhagen saturday night, and he knew that for us it was all but that. Within the frenzy he stuck out a hand and signaled to the right toward wide unforgettable doors that towered. We followed him through them – couchsurfers trust. There was a long posh hotel after midnight type of corridor and at the end a much smaller set of doors. We went through and Copenhagen’s furious raging underbelly stood before us. It was every brilliant bit of the rampant street condensed and shining. There was music and movement and echoing closeness that fitted us into its jigsaw as if we were natural pieces all along. Paulí is welcome in Ireland any time.

Couchsurfing represents a unique form of organic innovation. What it does, in actuality, is much more than provide an accommodation service, rather, it reinvents the web of travel. In its most ordinary cases, couchsurfing allows you to go beyond visiting a city; in its best cases it drags you within it and sets you cascading in unreal bounces between its boundaries.