OMG, how come I missed this project so far? Yesterday my colleague, Edit Kerekes told me about an email sent by Anca Dinu, whom I know for a long time now. And there it was: she was asking us, journalists, communicators, facilitators to disseminate the call for entertaining, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, so-called busy bee volunteers, who would joyfully welcome tourists and present the city through their won eyes.
I strongly think it’s a wonderful idea, so I immediately wrote an article in the Szabadság – Hungarian Language Regional Newspaper and – of course – signed up. Do hope they’ll accept a pensioner (I’m 39 already) as a volunteer greeter.
Why do I think it’s an amazing project?
Thanks to WizzAir, RyanAir, AirBerlin and other low-cost airlines and – of course – CouchSurfing I managed to visit 41 countries so far and I’m not very fond of the classic way of seeing a city: travel guides. Yeah, they’re nice and informative, knowledgeable and sometimes funny, too, but still, it’s simply not The Thing.
This building was built in 1786 by the architect…
– by the time the tourist guide finishes the sentence, you’re snoring… 🙂 OK, I get it, some people enjoy getting the info about the city that way, no problem, but I’ve had many more and much more memorable ways of truly discovering the city thanks to my CouchSurfing hosts who took me to the pub they usually go to, introduced me to their friends at a private party we went together to. I’ll always remember Cem Yildiz from Istanbul, Danny from Dubai, Bianca-Maria from Naples, Anita from Vienna, Mari from Tallinn, Jose-Luis from Zaragoza, Fernando and Cristiano from Bologna, Dragan from Nis, Ivan from Sofia, Sophie from Hannover, Nathan from Copenhagen, Christian from Lund or Laurent from Strasbourg. I’ll remember them, because they told me their personal life linked to the city, I got to know the place much more in-depth thanks to the stories they told me: what the do for a living, what they have studied, where, how much the rent is, where they hang out, but also local and national politics, issues that they are concerned about.
Using CouchSurfing I’ve been hosted by an anarchist and a homosexual: I found out things about the anarchist and gay movement in the city. Indeed, I’m conservative and heterosexual, but I was very interested in the way they live and how they feel about the city accepting their ideology and sexual orientation – things that you can get from no guide… And these things are genuinely part of the city’s spirit and you get to know them only from the locals – this is also why Cluj Greeters and the worldwide movement is so nice.
Plus, you really get the local perspective: the greeter takes you to his/her favorite place to hang out, a bar, a pub, you can join her/him to see a theater play at the Romanian or Hungarian Theater, a classical music or a hip-hop concert, an art installation or flash mob, alternative play by one the groups formed by young actors. You can join their society dance class, go hiking with them in the woods, go geocaching, plane spotting or bird wathing and you’ll find out about Cluj’s peculiar, hidden places, infrastructure or wildlife, but also the surroundings.
The greeters are eager to show you the places they usually go to, because that place breathes, it’s alive, it’s part of their life, they are emotionally attached to it. The greeters can take you to a board (society) game club or evening, to a private party or gathering, they will present you the city through their prism – seeing the place through the eyes of a local, I think, is the nicest gift. These people have so many hobbies, their roots go deep into the fabric of the local society, they are busy-bees that have five or six, maybe ten group of friends structured around their hobbies, they sacrifice time and effort to show you the city the best they can.
And – believe me – these personal encounters, the COMMON EXPERIENCE with the greeter will make you feel that you really know the city you visited. You need a name, a face and a story, exactly like a journalist, and you’ll feel satisfied about your visit.
So, you Cluj busy-bee, sign-up to Cluj Greeters or, dear visitor, „book” a greeter… Let’s restore faith in Humanity.
(The article – in Hungarian – published in today’s issue of Szabadság – Hungarian Language Regional Newspaper can be read here.)