Don’t touch me there. Or anywhere.


Being an Airbnb host is a crash course in multiculturalism, as you may be suddenly living with guests who have never been to America, seen a Western toilet, or know what a Bloomin Onion is.

One guest insisted I remove the plant from her room, because she was positive the plant would “eat up all the oxygen” and she would suffocate in the night. I tried to explain to her how photosynthesis works, and even showed her some articles, but she was not having it. Although this may not have been a cultural thing — it’s more likely she was just an idiot.

But there are things we do in America that simply aren’t done in other countries. Giving a thumbs-up in the Middle East, Latin America, and Western Africa has the same meaning as holding up a middle finger in the U.S. — or more literally, I’m going to jam my thumb in your anus. I’m guessing this is why Siskel & Ebert never caught on in Pakistan.

When a Persian couple successfully backed their car into the guest parking spot a few months ago, I came outside and gave them an enthusiastic thumbs up. Which I now realize was the equivalent of yelling “Welcome — I’m going to anally rape you!”

They took their time getting out of the car.

I’m also a pretty touchy-feely hugger, and in many cultures hugging is not appropriate — especially for a man to hug a single woman who’s not a family member. In my mind, we’ve been living together for a week, sharing a bathroom, discussing our days and eating together… when that guest leaves my impulse is to give them a big California liberal hug. Most of the time it’s natural and reciprocated, but if they suddenly tense up or shrink into their shoes, I know I’ve overstepped. While my thought bubble is “I am warm and affectionate and wish you well,” they’re reading “I want to give you a thumbs up in the name of Satan.”

Some countries just have different rituals than we do – especially in the bathroom. For example, guests from one particular country often do something I can’t figure out. I won’t tell you which country, because then you’ll think people from China are weird.

After these guests take a shower and dry off, they often carefully fold the wet towel and set it back on top of the folded/dry towels. At first I thought it was just an anomaly, but it began happening so often I actually had to post a sign that said “Please hang wet towels to dry – do not fold and put back on shelf.”

I somehow refrained from adding the word “O B V I O U S L Y” which my friend Alex points out I always add to emails when I’m angry (which is 100% of the time).

Even with the sign, more than half of these guests continue to do this (just happened again this morning!). Does anyone have any cultural insight to this? It now fascinates me. And infuriates me.


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