Getting to Know You
Have you ever had that feeling when you’ve just met someone for a few minutes, yet know, as surely as you know your own name that you’re going to be friends?
I’ve had this several times over the last month and it’s not because I’ve been to a spate of parties or suddenly started a new hobby or joined a book group. It’s because of Home Exchange.
There I was, talking on Skype to Jim Dunn in Palm Springs, Angela Gianluigi Colaiacomo in Rome and Catherine and Louis Delemain in France and I had never met them or even heard of them three weeks ago.
Of course we were discussing exchanging each other’s houses, but there is much more to this extraordinary website and what it can offer than simply ‘you have my house and I’ll have yours.’ The very act of deciding that you trust people you’ve never met, who possibly come from a different culture and very often a different country, to live in your precious, highly personal home makes you a certain kind of person.
We home exchangers are scattered all over the world in nearly 150 countries; we are going to have our differences. But we also share strong similarities and characteristics. We are curious. We find, as we travel around the world, that people whom we are supposed to fear or at least worry about are not much different from us. As we get to know them better we start to like them and ultimately trust them. Yes, we’ll exchange houses, but we’ll also help out, introduce other friends and contacts, make special arrangements, bake a cake. We become not just skype friends or Home Exchange friends. We become real friends.
When I exchanged with Marcella in Palermo, Sicily I entered another world; dazzling, energetic but different. Nothing works quite the way you would expect in Sicily. Electric plugs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so turning on a lamp can become an achievement. Meanwhile the television, which professed to have BBC News, firmly jumped onto one of the many Italian Games Shows when our backs were turned. Enter Roberto, our next-door neighbour who quickly sorted this out with the help and encouragement of his son Alessio and daughter, Laura. Alessio became quite a fan of mine and crept into our apartment at the slightest encouragement. The fact that he was three years old made no difference at all. We were only in Palermo for five days but made four lovely new friends.
I’m still to meet Jim, from Palm Springs who is coming here to London in November, but I know him. I know about life, his friends, the house he’s putting his house together and his passion for world-class tennis. And he knows me. What’s more when he heard I was looking for a cabin in Big Bear Lake for a family reunion the Christmas after next he went on the lookout to find one for me.
Angela, in Rome is another new friend we haven’t met. She and her husband Giovanni Luigi are spending this Christmas in London as we trot off to Rome. Angela read about my pizza-making escapade and knows I love Italian food. “I shall make you spaghetti carbonara”, she says and just in case Rome taxis decide to double their prices over the holiday period she and Gianluigi will meet us at the airport.
Angela and Gianluigi are very anxious that I shouldn’t put away family pictures or make my house in any way impersonal. “I want to feel you and your family,” she says. “I don’t want to think I am in a hotel.”
These are my sentiments precisely. That first moment when you walk into another person’s home is like slipping into an unfamiliar coat and seeing if it fits. It’s nice to dip into the pockets and come across a bus ticket, an old receipt or an errant button. In the same way, I can spend hours looking at family photos, perusing bookshelves, listening to other’s music. It all adds to the experience for me.
When Rosalie and Tony Lightman in Perth, Western Australia got in touch with a view to exchanging we were already there, in another exchange house of other good friends, Jan and Peter. But we met anyway, liked each other and when Tony and Rosalie were looking for somewhere to stay in London while we were holidaying in Spain we suggested they use our home. I don’t know if we’ll actually ever get around to exchanging in the traditional way, but no matter. Friends help each other out and for me, having Rosalie and Tony looking after my house was just as much a bonus as our providing a home in London for them. Swings and roundabouts come to mind.
My husband and I are looking forward to Rome enormously. It’s a wonderful, exciting, ravishing city that appeals to all the senses. But this time there is an added advantage. We will be slipping into Angela and Gianluigi’s life for a couple of weeks. Bellissima!
If you have a story about how Home Exchange has enriched your life, tell me about it. It could well become one of Sandra’s best stories.
Til next time,