The guest who almost wasn’t there…

HERE begins another account in the life and times of an Airbnb host. This episode concerns the guest who almost wasn’t there…

I can tell you very little about the visitor who left first thing this morning. I don’t even know his name. He came and went and remains a mystery more or less. He arrived last night and when we got up this morning, he had gone.

So let’s go back to yesterday. I spend a couple of hours preparing for his arrival, including driving into York to pick up a new vacuum cleaner, the old one having given up the ghost with a flash and a smell of burning.

That Miele vac was 17 years old, the same antiquity as our Volvo: we keep things going in this family. The new vac is also a Miele, as is our fairly ancient washing machine.

The house hasn’t been vacuumed for days, so I set to and then sort out the bathrooms. House clean and tidy, I resume my laptop labours. In the afternoon the first in a series of emails arrives from our guest. It is in Chinese which is Greek to me, as it were. I scratch my head and decide not to answer.

Another one arrives with a queue of Chinese characters. I Google ‘Chinese to English translation’ and drop the sentence into the box. “I sat at the National Railway Museum a few bus station can go to?”

This process continues throughout the afternoon and I manage to offer advice on the buses and work out that our guest is going to stay a little later in York.

Midway through our evening meal, the phone rings. A man starts talking in Chinese and I fail to understand a word, but something must have got through because I open the door. And there our guest is, talking on his mobile. He steps into the house and we shake hands and smile at each other.

“He doesn’t speak a word of English, not a squeak,” I say to myself.

Our visitor points to his shoes and we come to a nodding agreement that he should take them off before going upstairs. We pad upstairs and I show him his room, then the bathroom. He points at his feet and asks me something I don’t understand. Then he speaks into his mobile and waits for the translation. “Slippers,” he says. I think he wants to know if we have any spare slippers, so I shake my head. The only slippers we own come with feet attached. Do Chinese people keep spare slippers in their homes? I haven’t a clue.

When we come downstairs a little after 6.30pm, our guest has vanished. We wonder if he has gone for a walk, but no he has just gone full stop. He found the spare key and let himself out.

The mystery is solved by the arrival of another email. This one translates as: “The landlord, I go, thank you!”

I think it is only polite to wish him good morning, so I write something and pop it into an English to Chinese translator. His reply, when decoded, is: “Your house is very good, thank you!”

We have had a fair few Chinese guests now, including the young man who took photographs of everything to send to his mother. He’d never stayed in a western home before and was thrilled by all the mundane details of our life. He even wanted to be shown round the garden in the rain.

But this was the first Chinese guest who spoke no English at all. In our glancing acquaintance he seemed very friendly. Part of the enjoyment in having guests is getting to know them a little, so this visitor was different. I did not get to know him at all, although perhaps in a way I did. You can communicate something without language. And in a long line of visitors, he is one we will not forget. Even though we never even knew his name.

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