I’m sticking by my method of splitting cities between couchsurfing and hostels. Both are such great ways to meet people, but they are different kinds of people. Couchsurfing, you meet locals. They know all the best coffee places and where to get the cheapest beer. They have cinema cards and bike passes, and never worry about getting lost. I’ve been to two birthday parties, and I’m still waiting on an invitation to an acclaimed CS wedding–there was an open one in Denmark, but I didn’t have time to get there from Arles.
I love CS, but there is still something very special about staying in hostels. Everyone you meet is on holiday, like you. There’s an unspoken agreement not to get ready too much, and never to be embarrassed by changing in a room full of strangers. It’s easy to retain a flexible independence–you can spend the whole day with a group of people, and then go off by yourself for a few hours, no guilt, no questions asked. After you read in a park or eat MacDonalds or wander aimlessly, you can go back and find another group of people, ready and eager to hang out together.
I can’t tell if this is because I’m American, but Americans I’ve met in hostels are incredibly friendly. And even in our giant country, the accent is impossible to mistake. People from Idaho don’t sound so different from Floridians. It’s got me thinking that the big fuss I made over the Pittsburgh accent was all in my head. Yes, even the Southern accent doesn’t seem so thick compared to the flood of Franglish and other combinations of languages I’ve heard. To hear Americans talking is like flipping the channel to a Simpsons rerun–I don’t always know which episode it is, but it’s familiar and doesn’t take any effort to get caught up. “Where are you from?” always comes before “What’s your name?”, and the best conversation starter is to point to someone’s logo T-shirt and say “Hey, I know that college/summer camp/band/bar/show/lake/team/ice cream!” Next time I travel, I have to pack a W&J shirt and some DG letters, just to see who I meet.