Oct. 27, 2016
A few weeks ago, I just experienced the worst Airbnb stay in my life. In just a span of three days and two nights, I have been humiliated, discriminated and talked down upon as a Filipino. I think I might have experienced racism too. Here’s my story.
On October 7, my friend reserved a room in downtown Copenhagen under Pia*. Diana and I decided to spend our weekend in Copenhagen to enjoy the “happiest country in the world.” She is a Canadian-Filipino traveling around Europe. I, on the other hand, am a student studying Journalism at Aarhus University in Denmark.
Stepping into her house felt like entering a great grandaunt’s place: everything is tidy and proper. There were fresh flowers in the vases, the linens were perfectly folded, and there were two pieces of chocolate to welcome us from our long travel. Diana showed me around the house and introduced me to Pia. She was nice but from the beginning, she made a clear boundary between us and her. Diana briefed me with Pia’s rules: no entry in the kitchen at 10 p.m., use of designated lamps to open at the hallway, color-coded towels and cleaning materials to use at the toilet. She also warned us about a very expensive vase sitting in our room. Apparently, we also needed to clean and dry the bathroom every after shower. “She doesn’t like water droplets in the shower handle,” my friend said. I found it too strict and specific but I understood—we were sharing a house with her anyway.
That night, I made a cup of coffee and heated up a leftover burger in her kitchen. She gave me a tray because she didn’t want any crumbs falling off the floor. We were chatting at the common living area when she asked us to leave after 30 minutes because she and her friend wanted to play music.
That night we understood that she was a serious, strict person, and that we have to be careful not to cross her. We tiptoed at night, talked in hushed voices, and made sure we didn’t create too much noise.
The next day, I was hoping to have a chitchat with the lady—after all, we have something common to talk about as I am living in Aarhus for a year. Here’s a non-verbatim dialog:
Pia: How are you able to fund yourself here as a student? It must be expensive to study abroad. When I was a student, I had to work many jobs.
Me: I got a scholarship from the EU.
Pia: Oh…you got lucky.
Me: I wouldn’t say it’s just luck ‘cause only a few got the scholarship.
Pia: Then maybe you’re good or you’re lucky.
Me: Maybe I’m both.
I observed that she had a condescending voice all throughout the conversation as if she could not believe my story. She had a pre-conceived notion that I’m here in Denmark as a stroke of luck.
That same morning she scolded me for not drying the toilet’s floor. She called me out from the bathroom, saying she couldn’t believe that I would leave the toilet like that. In my defense, I tried to dry the floor with the rug available in the toilet but the rug was already wet when I used it and I could only do so much. I apologized and went to the toilet again to dry it. I asked for a new rug but she said “You are not squeezing the rug hard enough.” I knew she was upset so I tried not to talk back. I felt like a child being scolded, but I went back to the toilet and literally waited until the wind dried the floor. It took roughly five minutes of standing in the toilet, making sure it’s dry before she inspected it again.
The next day during our walking tour, I came back to the house because I forgot to bring my ID. As soon as I got home, she confronted me saying “I don’t like the way you are treating my house. You are disrespecting me, and you are disrespecting my house.”
I was shocked because I didn’t know that the (slightly wet) toilet floor early that morning had upset her this much. Apparently, she had more things to say against me. Here’s a list of the absurd things she pinned on me. I tried to make it as verbatim as possible.
1. “You are overusing my generosity. You used three towels when I think two is enough. I give and give and you are taking more and more.” (I arrived in the house with two towels hung up on the hooks of the toilet. I got one clean towel from the rack because I thought the two towels hanging on the hook were already used by somebody. It’s only logical to use one that’s folded in the rack anyway. I told her my friend and I technically just used two, but she insisted she was obliged to wash all three towels.)
2. “You hung your wet towel on my 200-year old chair. Do you know the paint can chip off from the chair if you do that? Do you usually do this in other people’s house?” (I was so dumbfounded by this accusation I couldn’t speak. How can you answer to something like that? First, I’ve known many people who put their towels on the chairs to dry. Second, I couldn’t use the hook at the toilet because it’s already occupied. Third, why would you put a 200-year old chair in a guest room if you want to preserve it? I didn’t tell her any of this. I just said I’m sorry and it won’t happen again.)
3. “You used the toilet three times this morning. I couldn’t even enter my toilet in my own house!” (I never knew anyone who counted the number of times people peed in the toilet. I told her “I’m sorry I had to pee.” She answered “It’s not even about that, it’s about sensibility!”)
4. “Do you even clean in your own home? How old are you? Do you have brothers and sisters?” (She tried to judge my actions by questioning me. This, I believe, is a privacy breach in the most disrespectful way.)
In all her accusations, I tried to be as calm as possible. I apologized repeatedly for the shortcomings, yet she consistently scolded me and reminded me that we were paying too little to use her “lovely house.” I wanted to defend myself and walk out of the room but the consequences were too high. First I didn’t want her to think that Filipinos solve problems like these by storming out. Second, we did not have a place to stay the night. Third, I was in her territory and I was scared for my safety.
In any case, I believe that Pia had stepped out the line. She had entered the room and arranged our things without our consent. She had verbally and emotionally harassed me as a guest. After scolding me for an entire 30 minutes, and later teaching me how to “properly” clean the toilet, I went back to my friends feeling heavy and traumatized. I missed my walking tour and spent the day feeling afraid to go home. Diana and I went back to the house as late as we could so we wouldn’t have to deal with her. We also agreed to leave early in the morning to minimize any opportunity to talk.
The weird thing about all of this is that Pia changes the manner of speaking with my Canadian friend. She speaks to me like I’m an idiot, unable to comprehend the rules of the house, and follow them accordingly. While she believed I crossed her personal boundaries by using the toilet thrice in the morning, I believe my rights have been abused. I have never felt so little in my life. This is the first time I’ve experienced anything like this in my over six years of journalistic career and dealing with people of all ages, status, nationality, and gender.
“You know, that’s racism in a way,” my friend said. Frankly, I am not sure if that could be classified as racism. The only thing I know for certain is that I am unwelcome in her Danish house. The way she spoke to me; the way she reacted when I said I’m a Filipino student enjoying the country’s educational system for free; and the way she nitpicked on every little movement I do—if you couldn’t call it racism, then just call it for what is: disrespect.
I am writing to officially file this complaint against her. I am requesting for her accreditation be revoked as an Airbnb host. I believe no guest, or any person for that matter, should feel the same way as I did.
Hon Sophia Balod
*Note from the author: This is an actual letter sent to Airbnb with minor edits. Full name of the host withheld as case is currently being processed by Airbnb’s customer service. My friend, Diana, also wrote a review of our stay in her place. The author encourages anyone who has experienced potentially racist and discriminatory behavior to speak up and report these incidents.
[Entry 179, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Hon Sophia Balod is a storyteller. She was previously a News Producer of special reports and features for GMA Network and Reuters. She is a media fellow of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and recipient of 2016 Gawad Agong and Sarihay Media Awards for Excellence in News Reporting on the plight of indigenous people and environmental issues. She is now studying Media and Politics in Aarhus University, Denmark under the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship Program. Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles here.