Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

I am like so totally a prude

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I’m starting to wonder about staying on Couchsurfers.

It’s not just that I realized we only had one surfer stay with us in 2013, but that the annoyances are getting to be a bit much.

The other few surfers that we would have gladly hosted, we were either away or had the kids home occupying their rooms, or the surfers were people who were unsure when they’d arrive and how long they’d stay, maybe needed to be met somewhere, and needed hosts with more flexible schedules than we had.

And as I’ve said before, we regularly turn down people who’ve joined CS to seek free lodging, not to become part of a community of travellers, and within minutes send out a request, with no references and no profile.

I’ve had two very similar and unusual requests lately which had alarm bells going off.

Both professionals, men, one from Cameroon via England, the other from China. Both wanted to stay with us for one or two nights, in which time we would become BFF, and we would vouch for them as long-time close friends when they made application as immigrants under Manitoba’s provincial nominee program.

Um, no thanks.

Wondering whether this may be more than coincidence, I wrote to the CS media line, identifying myself as a member but making it clear I was contacting them as a reporter, for possible publication.

Back came the answer: "We have seen a few similar incidents in the past. However, any illegal activity or use of the website for dating purpose is against our Terms of Use and thus subject to removal. We encourage members to flag potentially abusive content for removal.

Hope this helps you out, both as a CS member and a reporter!

Yours,
The Couchsurfing Media Team"

OK, so I didn’t have an enormous immigration scandal.

But note that CS did cite both illegal activity, and use of CS for dating purposes.

Back when we first became aware of CS, when child the elder used it extensively both as a host and when he was cycling around the U.S., it was emphasized that it is not a dating site, and there should be no expectations of such.

One woman who stayed with us before and after taking the train to Churchill, a Chinese national working in Toronto, told us she now seeks out older couples, after she stayed with a guy in CS who hit on her.

When you log in, there’s a link to people looking for a host in our area, whom CS asks us to consider inviting. I’ve always figured, why aren’t they going through the process of reading our profile and sending us a request?

Anyway.

There’s been one the past few days, a 36-year-old man from Armenia via Miami, looking to stay in Winnipeg, whose ‘profile picture’ is of a young woman in a bikini; the young woman is pushing back the material in the swimsuit to display her left breast.

The surfer says he’s looking for a female host, and through a lengthy message, says he’s looking for spiffy lodging and meals and entertainment, with sex involved.

I reported it as abuse, and told CS I found the objectifying of women in the so-called profile picture offensive and inappropriate.

I also explained at length that seeing such a posting could lead to a lot of misunderstanding about CS, particularly among people new to CS or people considering becoming hosts.

The CS trust and safety team replied that no one is forcing us to host the guy.

Said the team: "This feels more like he’s trying to be funny. I think people who share his sense of humor will probably enjoy hosting him. Also, see it differently: this way you can see his true colors and decided whether you’d enjoy hosting him, or not. If we ask him to tone it down, then you wouldn’t be getting to see his true personality coming out. And you might consider hosting him, and not enjoying it as much in the end."

Sigh.

Child the elder has been recommending that we switch our membership over to Warm Showers, which is open only to touring cyclists; in that case, we’d probably lean more to hosting than to being travellers. And would probably get fewer requests this time of year.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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