SUZANNE HARRINGTON: An Airbnb story straight from the horse’s mouth

Here is how some washing-up resulted in the sale of a horse. Read this, then watch Black Mirror’s Nosedive on YouTube. The similarities are uncanny, writes Suzanne Harrington. 

So. The Airbnb guests arrive. After the last lot, whose private feedback I requested to optimise future visits (see, I’m using words like ‘optimise’, so sucked-in am I to the anxious self-curation of the gig economy, the craven people-pleasing), I have taken further steps to enhance user experience. (Shoot me now). On the advice of the last guests, I’ve painted the front door, and installed a jolly pink trough of dahlias to distract from the overall Steptoe & Son aesthetic.

I put sachets of hot chocolate in the room they’d be sleeping in. (MY room. Not that I’m territorial or anything). And not just one kind of hot chocolate, but several — Galaxy, Maltesers, Aero — plus green tea, black tea, mint tea and two kinds of coffee. A handwritten welcome note with a smiley face on it. Extra pillows. A wifi booster and a packet of chili fucking cashews.

It’s not because I’m nice. God, no. I want good reviews in this cut-throat bedroom-renting lark, so that people will read what other people say about my hosting, and think, ‘wow, I like the sound of that place, with its variety of complimentary hot beverages to rival a mid-range hotel chain, yet its youth hostel prices’. And so the rating begins.

An Airbnb story straight from the horse’s mouth

The like the comfy bed. They like the free snacks. They leave a private message that nobody can see, saying they would definitely recommend my place to friends. But on the public page, where the whole of the internet can read? Under ‘cleanliness’, they are perturbed that there was some washing-up in the kitchen. Um. The kitchen that is not part of the deal. The kitchen where the feral teenagers frequent. So, instead of five stars, I get four. My bookings slow down.

“Sorry,” I say to my friend, who cleans my house twice a week. “But I can only pay you once a week now, because of the washing-up that is now on the internet.”

“Oh,” says my friend, doing sums in her head. She uses the cleaning money I pay her to buy hay for her horses, who live in a field nearby. She will now have to sell one of them. This is the eco-economy, a delicate interbalancing of small sums of money that keep people (mostly women) ticking along, living our lives, without having to sell our souls. It is a Jenga tower of connectedness, self-reliance woven through with interdependence.

So, next time you are disappointed about a soap dish in someone’s Airbnb bathroom, or take to Trip Advisor to savage a sandwich, remember my friend’s horse, who is now living in a different field, with a bunch of horses he doesn’t even know. He’s furious. And all because of some washing-up in someone’s kitchen.


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