Is that chinchilla shit on the floor? And is my bag sitting in it? This was not starting out well.
I’d been couchsurfing successfully for about three weeks, and I had arrived in Copenhagen, looking forward to speaking Italian with my Italian PhD student host. Instead, I had arrived to a cramped apartment, two other couchsurfers, and with my host’s undisclosed roommate, Filo. And a fucking chinchilla.
In all fairness, my host had let me know he wouldn’t be available to let me in. “It’s ok, my dear friend will let you in and I’ve already spoken with him about it.” Dear friend and roommate must be synonymous for Giuglio. They are not to me. Dear friend connotes someone whom you know and like, but does not live with you. My host, Giulgio, definitely had a roommate.
Filo let me in and meeting him was like a smack in the face. He took me in the way I’d seen the men of Amsterdam’s Red Light District take in the women window displays. He told me he'd call me Amy--that's not my name. He took every opportunity to make fun of me. He made me take off my shoes, despite the plentiful chinchilla shit that dotted the light-colored wood floor.
The other thing I noticed when I walked in was the two women sitting at the table. I asked Filo, “So, are these your friends, or other couch surfers?” No one had mentioned that there would be two other people sleeping in the tiny two-bed (bed, not bedroom) flat.
“Who, them? No, they’re the people that are going to be renting the flat starting tomorrow! So you and I are going to have to find another place to sleep!” He took a sip of his beer and laughed. I had no idea who the girls were. They laughed nervously, and I still didn’t know.
I did my best to make conversation. I learned that Filo was from Trieste, but did not consider himself Italian. “No, I am not Italian. I do not like football, I do not like pizza. I am not from there.” I asked him about his involvement with CouchSurfing. “I only do three things in life—work, create, and make connections.” Existential bullshit poured from his mouth, and I wanted to duct tape it shut.
I noticed my inner flag go up. I didn’t feel in danger, but I felt very uncomfortable. I stepped out for a moment to visit the American girls I had met upstairs to see if I could borrow their internet to get myself a hostel for the night. They weren’t home. Instead, the five of us—Filo, the Taiwanese girls, and me—went grocery shopping.
The girls and I bought the food we would wind up not eating and he bought the case of beer from which we’d take one beer each. It was not a good deal.
While Filo made pasta, I overheard the conversation he was having with Yun Hua. He was asking her about exclusive relationships and what that meant to her. “So, you’re just having fun, right?” he asked her. “You’re not seriously dating anyone?” I dug into my makeup bag and slipped on my fake engagement ring. I looked up hostels for the following night. It was too late for the buses to be running, and I didn’t know if one could flag down a taxi in Copenhagen.
Over dinner, I spoke about my (fake) fiancé, Danny. I saw Filo’s eyes go dark. He had instantly become bored with me. He cornered me in the kitchen afterwards and said to me, in Italian, “So, we have a sleeping situation to figure out.”
“Yes, we do. There will be six of us here, tonight, including Giuglio. Where are we all going to sleep?”
He leaned against the wall and leaned in closer to me. “Well, you’re engaged, so I would like to preserve the beauty of that. Nothing will happen tonight if you sleep in my bed. But I would prefer it if you slept on the mattress on the floor with one of the girls—I think you know which—so that the other can sleep with me and I can have an opportunity with her.”
How does one respond to this? How does a single female traveler in a male’s home respond to this?
“Filo, I came to Copenhagen to see the city, not to manipulate people. If she doesn’t want to sleep in your bed, I’m not going to make her. I am not your accomplice.”
“Sure you are!” He pushed my arm, like I was his buddy. Like I was the buddy that picked up the packages of condoms in his bathroom, in his bedside drawer, on the table…
“No, I’m not. And if I have to sleep in your bed, nothing will happen. You swear?”
And then he told me I was stupid for trying to get him to promise that. “You think that will make you safe? You’re silly.”
I raised my voice and copped an attitude. He found it funny. I told him, once more, that if anything happened, I’d beat the shit out of him in the middle of the night. “Now, why would you say that? You think that if someone wants to harm you that you saying that will keep you safe?”
“Maybe not. But this way, at least I’ve made you aware that I understand what you’re capable of and I’ve made you aware of what I’m capable of.” And he smiled at me.
Why didn’t you leave, Amanda? It’s a good question. Transportation was an issue. It was too far to walk that late, and there was the already stated bus and taxi issue. I did not feel in danger, but I did feel I was in the presence of a major, major asshole.
After dinner, Filo did his best to get us to go out clubbing with him. His explanation of the choices for the night were the following:
“1A: we can go out clubbing. 1B—I am a scientist, I have to list things like this—we can go out for a drink, and then go clubbing. 1C—we can have an orgy, ha ha!”
Finally, I said, “Filo, I’m not going out. I was on the train for 12 hours and I’m tired. You will not convince me.” He was not happy, but Chia Hua and Yun-Han did not want to go out either.
Filo emerged from the bathroom, chinchilla shit undoubtedly stuck to the bottom of his slippers, and in his boxers, ready for bed. Who the fuck is this guy?
I slept in my street clothes, in my street clothes, and as far away from him as possible.
I woke up much the same, and confident that nothing had happened during the night. I slipped out of bed, took my computer to the kitchen, and the wifi worked. Thank God. I found a hostel, found the address, and got ready to make my move.
When the guys woke—Giuglio had gotten home at some point during the night—we ate breakfast, standing, in the kitchen. I was cool and polite. The boys asked for advice on backpacks for their upcoming trip to Siberia. I told them what I thought as I packed my bag. They didn’t notice.
I spoke to Giulgio about his PhD and he told me how much he liked San Francisco, except for all the gay people. I put my makeup bag in my pack and cinched the clips tight.
The girls and I had decided to go out together. “I only have one set of keys, so you’ll all have to come back at the same time, then,” Filo explained. That wasn’t going to be a problem.
As we got our shoes on, the girls noticed the pack on my back. “Do you always carry all your things with you?”
“All the time. That way, I always have what I need.”
A block away from the flat, I told them I wasn’t coming back and I apologized for lying to them about Danny and my bag.
We spent the next few hours gathering luggage and finding a hotel to split three ways. We had all hated our experience with Filo, and the girls didn’t even know what Filo had hoped would happen.
So why am I writing about this, and why am I writing poorly about this? I believe in CouchSurfing, for sure. However, as my parents pointed out, I should still value the gift of fear. That is why I am writing.
I knew as soon as I arrived that something was wrong. Filo’s flat was not a normal, feel-good place. It was a place where he takes advantage of travelers when he can. It’s a place that is full of misrepresentations, and disrespect. It is a place full of fear. I could feel it the moment I walked in.
It’s this feeling that is a gift from our evolution, from our bodies, from something we know is there but don’t quite understand, that we must heed. It knows—it always knows—when something is off. This fear is what can keep us safe when no person or safe haven can. It is a gift we must not ignore.
I hope this scares those who are thinking of CouchSurfing. I hope this makes you really think about with whom you’re staying and whom you can trust. I have already made some amazing, amazing friends from CouchSurfing, people I will love for life. But with those fabulous dozen come the sneaky and the dishonest. I like as much as anyone to have faith in humans, but sometimes suspicion and distrust must take precedence. Especially when you’re a woman and when you’re alone.
So, how did it turn out? The girls and I spent a great night in a surprisingly great room. We fell asleep safe, warm, and without worry. We spent a beautiful day in Copenhagen, and only ran into Giuglio once. How is that possible? It was surprising for sure. I was honest with him—I told him we’d left because Filo creeped me out. His feeble response: “I think I told you that he’d be there…” No, Giuglio, you didn’t. And your roommate is a fucking asshole. We left and continued on our way, happy as anything to be out and about, together, and away.