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Couchsurfing in Jerusalem – A network of trust in a city of suspicion


Chapters Introduction .1 The evolution of hospitality – the biblical myth of Abraham and its' cultural .offshoots .What is couchsurfing – an overview of the couchsurfing network Building trust in a city of suspicion – Unique aspects of Jerusalem as a .couchsurfing arena Methodology – sources and references for this study Creating Trust –analysis of couchsurfing systems such as personal profiles, couchrequests, references, vouching, verification Portrayal of Trustworthiness – choice of profile photographs and descriptions Couchsurfing Portraits –the photographer's intention as a determining factor in interpreting portraits

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?Case studies: What motivates members to become involved in couchsurfing Personal perspective – my motivation as an active couchsurfer Couchsurfing with Kamila Kahn – Polish immigrant in Dublin Yachdav and Shai hosting Scott and Val –Jerusalemite couple host travelling American couple Netanel and Lily – Jerusalem tour guide hosts French videographer Further analysis of photographic portrayals of trust relationships between hosts/guest - different possible approaches to portrait photography of Jerusalem hosts + surfers Summary – possible applications of trust-formation and portrayal in other frameworks Bibliography

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Introduction The evolution of hospitality The Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that gods could disguise themselves as people, and emphasized in many myths to be welcoming and allow travelers to stay, for no-one could know when they were being tested by a god in the guise of a traveler. The roman poet Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) told the tale of Baucis and Philemon, a poor old couple who were the only ones in their town to welcome the gods Zeus and Hermes (who were disguised as tired travelers) into their homes. The gods advised the couple to leave the town before a flood destroyed all houses but theirs, which remained standing as a temple of (which the couple were blessed to be guardians. (1 Extending further back in time, hospitality struck deep roots in the Abrahamic monotheistic religions that developed in Western Asia, all of whom share the common myth of Abraham, a role model who personified the notion of hospitality and generosity. The biblical story of Abraham (2) enthusiastically inviting three travelers (who turn out to be angels of God) into his tent runs parallel to many ancient traditions that emphasized the high importance of caring for strangers who are passing through, and instigated a belief that welcoming an .unknown person into one's home brings blessing upon the host To this day, hospitality continues to be held as a worthy and even sacred practice in Abrahamic cultures, and so it is intriguing to track the modern development of this ancient practice in a city considered holy by Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Having grown up in a traditional Jewish environment, Jerusalem is the city I feel the greatest sense of belonging to, a sentiment shared by many members of all Abrahamic cultures, and over the course of this study I will explore the modern form of a hospitality tradition deeply engrained in .Jerusalem's legacy Over the past 5 years, I have been an active member in a radical social network that enables members to travel around the globe, staying in the homes of other members in their travel .destination in what might be described as an informal cultural and social exchange

?What is couchsurfing


CouchSurfing.com is a hospitality network that connects travelers with local hosts who offer anything from free accommodation in their homes, a few hours of their time to show their .guest around their local environment, or a short conversation in a bar or café Instead of booking a hotel and experiencing a foreign land as a detached outsider whose interaction with the local population is often superficial and limited to his demands as a tourist, being hosted by locals offers a traveler the opportunity to form genuine friendships whilst experiencing a new culture through the lives of the locals, and to learn about their .unique customs, values, and social issues from the inside Created as a non-profit organization in 2003, Couchsurfing promotes values such as "Building meaningful connections across cultures that enable us to respond to differences with curiosity, appreciation and respect” (3). The community now has more than a million members in over 230 countries, and can be considered a true expression of McLuhan’s global village concept (1962), whereby people around the world are unified by a global .communications platform My experiences as both a host and a "surfer" (guest) have developed my capacity for communicating and building trust with strangers, and have enriched my life with diverse .friendships, new knowledge, and a wider perspective on humanity Couchsurfing is a response and an attempt to find a remedy to our individualistic, potentially isolating and commercially-orientated Western society, in that it empowers people to build meaningful relationships in a framework that is distinct from the commoditized framework of commercial tourism (Liu, 2012). It provides an opportunity to pursue cultural exchange, personal growth, and increased connections with strangers, who are, in fact, fellow human .beings with a whole lot of things in common In his book Holy War, Holy Peace (2002), Marc Grobin discusses the isolation of modern society that can cause people to actively seek the company of strangers, and explores the deep roots of hospitality in Abrahamic religion as the ultimate moral act. The nature of interaction with the stranger, according to Grobin, is a "litmus test of any society's fundamental goodness or fundamental evil… the street is an essential place for .(diagnosis"(p23

Building trust in a city of suspicion It is no secret that Jerusalem, despite her beauty, diversity and sacredness to the Abrahamic religions, continues to be the fault-line for a number of intercultural conflicts. Living in Jerusalem, one is constantly aware of an underlying tension which is mostly absent in other Israeli cities. This one city contains neighborhoods which culturally, politically and economically are worlds apart, and one needs only to cross the street to enter one world .from the other The importance of Jerusalem to a number of clashing ideologies causes people to cling together in tight-knit communities, which on an ideological basis are often suspicious and


hostile to members of other communities, even if a delicate status quo is maintained out of collective self-interest. The reason for this tension is that Jerusalem is more than a city – it is .a symbol But what it symbolizes to each community is drastically different and often exclusive of other claims – to the Ultra-Orthodox Jew it is a city that demands utter commitment to Jewish religious law. To the Arab Muslim it represents the crux of their national cause – the founding of an independent state of Palestine with the third most sacred site to Islam in their capital. To secular Zionists it is the historical origins of the Jewish people, and a symbol of the Jewish peoples' newfound right to self-definition. (Grobin, p63) To more post-Zionist Israelis it represents the need to avoid mixing religion and politics. And the Christian world sees Jerusalem, or rather sees beyond the reality of earthly Jerusalem, as a symbol of peace .and redemption It is within this fragile reality that Jerusalemites go about their daily lives, and with time, become conditioned to the underlying tension. Apart from occasionally taking a stroll into a different neighborhood, many Jerusalemites live their lives largely within the confines of their own communities (Ozzolenghi, 2012, Sheleff, 2002). It is interesting to note that many visitors describe both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods as being welcoming and friendly to foreigners (with the exception perhaps of the more isolationist ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods), and it would seem that suspicion is reserved mainly towards members of .other local communities This implies that while both cultures see hospitality towards strangers as an important custom with deep roots in their respective traditions, it may not extend to the Other living next door. In fact the very similarities that exist between diverse neighbors (and are absent with foreigners) may encourage a more judgemental, suspicious approach, while the "strangeness" of a stranger allows her to be considered as a separate category of existence, .unshackled by local prejudices and tensions Outsiders visiting Jerusalem are often excited or overwhelmed by the paradoxes of the city which locals learn to ignore, and so the couchsurfing experience in Jerusalem provides a unique opportunity to both parties involved. The host receives a glimpse of Jerusalem from an outsiders' point of view, and learns to re-appreciate the cultural diversity of their city, while the guest sees the native aspect of Jerusalem as a city of residents, which many .tourists are not exposed to in the course of their visit of iconic religious and cultural sites Thus, couchsurfing reduces Jerusalem from a symbol or icon to a framework for human interaction, and it is my opinion that this is the most authentic and meaningful way of seeing a city. Over the course of numerous conversations and interactions with couchsurfers, as a guest, host and visitor, I aimed to find answers to my initial inquiry: how is trust formed ?between strangers, and how can it be portrayed through photography

Methodology


This work aims to explore the manner in which trust is formed between strangers in the framework of the Jerusalem couchsurfing community, and employs the following diverse methodologies: the documenting of my own couchsurfing experiences, ethno methodological interviews with active couchsurfing members, portrait photography of the interaction between hosts and surfers, analyzing online correspondence via the couchsurfing .website, and reference to studies describing social trends related to couchsurfing In order to receive an insight into the Jerusalem couchsurfing community, I posted a message on the Jerusalem couchsurfing group requesting to interview and photograph Couchsurfers along with their hosts, and thus managed to collect "live" material from a number of different case studies , whose perspectives I then merged in order to form an analysis of the Jerusalem couchsurfing scene, based on the underlying principle that a social phenomena such as couchsurfing is best reflected by personal accounts of active participants. Despite the difference in quantity of interviews, references were made to Chaim Noi's ethno-methodological study (2003) that merges interviews of backpackers in .order to come to sociological conclusions regarding the significance of that trend

Creating Trust As I will demonstrate from the perspective of personal experience, case studies, and whilst referring to additional literature and previous studies, I will attempt to summarize the methodologies that lead to the formation of trust within the couchsurfing community around the world. The initial platform for the building of trust is online, which leads to an offline interaction that anchors that trust, forming an integrated relationship that "merges .(the virtual and physical" (Rosen, 2011

Sending a couch-request

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The initial 'couch-request' serves as the initiation of online communication between members, and in order to stand a good chance of being accepted, the content should be written specifically to the member being addressed (rather than copy-pasting the message to multiple recipients). When it is clear to me that a member has taken the time to read my profile and is interested in meeting me specifically, I am more likely to trust their stated .intentions and accept their request Some new members entertain a misconception that hosts offer their hospitality from purely altruistic motives, i.e. they do not take into account that the motivation of many hosts is not solely to provide free accommodation in order to cut down the costs of other travelers, but to benefit from the cultural and social interaction that hospitality encounters like these


provide (for a more in depth study, see Liu, 2012). A couch-request that emphasizes the accommodation needs of the traveler as opposed to their anticipation of an enjoyable .interaction with a new face receives an automatic denial from me In this context, trust is formed when travelers emphasize their desire to give of themselves (time, energy, knowledge, etc), in the secure knowledge that their accommodation needs .will be cared to in whatever form is possible for the host

Personal profile and references

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The amount of information invested in forming a full, descriptive profile is vital to building online trust - it takes us only several seconds to make a first impression of a stranger- in an offline setting this is based on appearance, manner, posture etc, and so the personal profile acts as an online substitute, allowing members to form a general impression of each other based on carefully selected text and images. The extent to which members feel that they can rely on each other's profiles as accurate representations indicates the level of trust that .members place in the mechanism of the couchsurfing community This aspect of couchsurfing parallels various other social networks to the extent that personal relationships may be represented or even initiated over a platform that allows people to communicate without seeing each other, but is unique in that the initial online interaction is aimed primarily at arranging an offline interaction between strangers, which in .(turn leads to leaving an online reference, bringing the process full circle (Liu, C.S, 2012

Additional trust mechanisms

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Given the natural suspicion that many people have towards online anonymous entities, the couchsurfing mechanism adopts additional measures that allow members to feel more :secure in putting their trusts in strangers Verification involves members verifying their name and address by registering a • .code on the website from a postcard that is sent by post to their home The reference system is critical to the integrity of the couchsurfing community, and • .is a strong indication of the trustworthiness of a member The vouching system took a core group of devoted couchsurfers and gave them the • power to "vouch" for other members they deemed to be similarly devoted, whereby after 3 members have vouched for you, the recipient then has the power to vouch for others. Studies show that this system works to a certain degree in that above 80% of more active members are vouched for at least once, while only 1.8% of the community have been vouched for 3 times (and thus have the power to vouch for others). This allows the vouching system to serve as a realistic indication of the degree of involvement of members ((Lauterbach et al, 2009


Portraying Trustworthiness and Trust The portrayal of trust through the medium of photography is particularly relevant to a social network that requires members to trust each other based on their online representation to the extent of inviting each other into their homes. Photography is relevant to two aspects of this project – members' choice of profile photos in representing their offline personality so as to portray their trustworthiness, and photographing the interpersonal dynamics of trust.formation in the couchsurfing experience Profile Photographs and portrayals of trustworthiness As in any social network, images and text are the two elements that are used extensively in representing an individual. Studies come to opposing conclusions regarding the relative importance of images versus text in forming trust. One perspective (CMC) finds that images are chosen by the user in order to create a self portrayal that presents them in a flattering, positive manner, and can be more effective in attracting trust than text because people are .naturally used to measuring trust by analyzing facial features In contrast, the truth bias perspective claims that purely textual correspondence between members can lead to a trust-building idealization which is diminished by the presence of images. Research by Toma (2010) concludes that the generation of intricate textual selfdescription supports accurate evaluations of trustworthiness, and this supports the .importance of a full, detailed textual profile in couchsurfing Statistically, however, members with photographs of themselves are many times more likely to have couchrequests accepted (see website), and this suggests that couchsurfing members are less interested in building an idealized conception of each other, and more interested in .receiving a realistic impression of members they expect to interact with The importance of the images presented on the couchsurfing website, then, is to provide members with a positive yet realistic impression of each other. It is beyond the scope of this work to provide an in-depth analysis of a range of couchsurfing profile pictures, but a short tour of couchsurfing profiles will give us some general pointers as to common denominators .of profile photos As in other social networks, most members choose to post photos of their selves' as funloving, smiling and easy going - many photograph themselves along with other people as an indication of their social attributes. Given that couchsurfing is a community of travelers, many members choose to present their travel photos, or if they are experienced Couchsurfers, they may choose to portray some of their previous couchsurfing experiences. Knowing that the profile is visible to anyone, most members do not portray themselves in an extreme, offensive or overly provocative way, in contrast to social networks that provide .more selective visibility like Facebook Portraying the couchsurfing experience through photography


As a photographer who is an active participant in the couchsurfing community, it is important to explore the different possibilities for promoting the couchsurfing community by means of photography. What angles exist for visually portraying the underlying principle ?of couchsurfing - ie the formation of trust between strangers In Kohn' study (2008) on the significance of Ha'aretz newspaper featuring weekly "family portraits" in providing a glimpse into contemporary Israeli society, an in depth study is made on the extent to which textual or photographic portraits of individuals or groups can represent an entire community. Indicators such as dress, facial expression and body .language are instrumental in the projection of individual attributes onto a collective Kohn concludes that the family portrait infers cultural and social norms in interpreting images as a declaration of individual and family identity. An important element in understanding the interpersonal relationship of a family is their spacial proximity to each other. The photographer is by definition instrumental in composing the spacial relation of a group portrait, and so the interpretation of the image will be determined to a large extent .by his intention and decisions regarding composition

As Kohn states, Steichen's exhibition "The Family of Man" demonstrates the power of the photographer to portray the most diverse groups by means of western cultural norms and modes of interpreting images (Barthes, 1985). When photographing couchsurfing hosts and guests together, it is inevitable that the choices I make in arranging the participants .determine the possible ways that the couchsurfing experience is represented


Case Studies Personal Perspective Most of my adult life I have been on the move from house to house and country to country. I moved from Dublin to Manchester at the age of 10 with my family, from Manchester to Israel at the age of 16 alone, and over the decade since, whilst in the frameworks of yeshiva, work, the army, and now as a student, I figure I must have moved through at least 12 different apartments, staying in each for various periods of time between a couple of .(!months to a year and a half (at most I feel a strong affinity with the medieval depiction of the Jewish wanderer, despite the fact that my journey is narrated by (thankfully) different considerations, which I believe I share with many other people in my economic and practical situation – I identify strongly with travelers as people who are familiar with experiencing the adventures, uncertainties, and .discoveries of an unsettled way of life I have experienced firsthand the difficulty of having no stable home-base, and spent my formative years carrying my home on my back from place to place. When I reach a place that fulfills my expectations, I invest a significant amount of energy in making the place feel as much a home as possible, at least long enough to become settled into a routine, perhaps in order to conceal my intuitive realization that at any moment, I might be back on the road. Unlike other young, single immigrants, I accumulate a large amount of furniture, appliances, cooking equipment and luxuries that make moving home quite an ordeal, but one I am willing to pay the price for – I believe that having a stable, organized home helps keep me centered psychologically, and helps me to function more effectively in my many .occupations I mention this only to emphasize my appreciation for the significance of a home in being a refuge of stability in an unstable reality. Travelers share this appreciation, as they are constantly surrounded by uncertainty, and the invitation to feel at home in another person's home provides a temporary point of stability from which they can feel at ease to explore an .foreign culture I have been involved in couchsurfing since 2008, when a friend informed me about a revolutionary social network that would allow me to meet and learn from diverse people around the world, and to become part of a worldwide community of travelers. At the time, I was a year away from completing my military service and was dreaming about my travel prospects for following my release, so the prospect of developing an online reputation that .could one day help me in finding local hosts along the way seemed attractive According to Shafran, the "big trek" abroad has become entrenched in Israeli culture since the Yom Kippur war as an almost obligatory stage on the journey to Israeli adulthood, and can be considered as an evolution of the traditional Zionist urge to "conquer" the land of


Israel by trekking within it. Even beyond the consensus for the post-military trip, given Israels' small size and high political tension, life here can sometimes feel constricting, and there is something about the vast empty expanses of other countries that provides an .appealing contrast to Israelis who want to take a breather I find that whenever I travel abroad, experiencing a different culture provides me with a new perspective, and appreciation, for the unique aspects of life in Israel, and couchsurfing .provides an ideal framework for becoming intimately acquainted with a foreign culture .On the other hand, hosting travelers at my own home fulfills me for a number of reasons Firstly, hosting strangers from a different culture provides me with opportunities to interact meaningfully with people I would never have met under other circumstances, while learning new things and opening up to their world, which is always different to mine but full of surprising similarities. I feel that this provides me with a richer perspective on my own life .when I learn to see the familiar from an outsiders' point of view Secondly, I feel responsible to positively portray the country and city I have made a choice to live in from my perspective as an immigrant, and I feel that this is an alternative form of diplomacy that is meaningful in creating intercultural connections and understanding at a .much more profound level than that of formal diplomacy When I was a 16, I spent a year traveling around and becoming acquainted with Israel, hitchhiking with strangers, trekking in various parts of the country, learning Hebrew and falling in love with the Israeli people, whom I found to be hospitable and welcoming in a way I hadn’t .experienced in any other country Reciprocity is an important element in my spiritual outlook (what comes round goes around!), and perhaps as a result of my heightened sensitivity to the significance of Home, I now feel obligated to share my own home with travelers whenever I can. Couchsurfing empowers me to help travelers by providing them with a temporary home base and by playing the role of the host, I feel even more stable in my own sense of being at home, .having already thoroughly experienced the other side of the hospitality equation


Couchsurfing with Kamila Khan During a short trip to Ireland in February 2013, I spent one night couchsurfing in Dublin city, an experience which added a personal perspective to this study. Most of my experience as a member of couchsurfing has been hosting travelers in Jerusalem, so I felt it was important to place myself in the shoes of the guest for what was only my 3rd time couchsurfing. Having been born and raised in Ireland until the age of 10, I am quite familiar with the Irish mentality, and thought it would be interesting to couchsurf with an immigrant to Ireland in order to experience a less conventional aspect of Irish society. During the Irish economic boom of the early 2000's, the 'Celtic Tiger' attracted significant immigration from lessdeveloped EU countries, including Poland when it joined the EU from 2004, and although the Irish economy has since all but crashed, there is still a significant immigrant population. I had the fortune of being hosted by Kamila, who moved to Ireland from Poland in 2006 and now lives in Rotunda, a neighborhood in the city center of Dublin that has in recent years become .popular with immigrants I first met Kamila via the couchsurfing website in March 2012 when, with a couple of hours to burn before my flight from Dublin, I met up with her and some of her friends in Temple Bar for a pint after contacting them via the website, where we enjoyed each other's company and had a good conversation (it turns out she enjoys photography too). We remained in contact by facebook, and so when I posted my plans to come to Dublin she contacted me and offered to host me for a night. In truth, by that stage our correspondence had moved from the couchsurfing website to facebook (which is much more user-friendly), but the fact remains that our initial meeting was a result of the couchsurfing network, and apart from a shared drink a year earlier, she was pretty much a stranger to me at that stage. I mention this because I still referred to positive references other members had left on her


couchsurfing profile as an indication of her being a trustworthy host, and relied on this .information when I took her up on her offer Before arriving at her place, we spoke briefly over the phone, and I found it difficult to form much of an impression of her personality before meeting her. She sounded polite, yet reserved over the phone, and as I made my way by bus to her part of the city I found myself wondering how easy it would be to form a connection and break down some of the psychological barriers that we naturally raise around ourselves from strangers. I knocked at her door at approximately 9 in the evening, and she opened up and brought me into her one-room apartment. Her room was clean, comfortable but not overly tidy, she had a number of photographs and texts she had hung up on the walls and were the first thing to catch my eye, I believe that you can tell a lot about a person from the space they live in. I could sense she had an appreciation for creativity and expression, both of which are personality traits I value and so I immediately felt comfortable in her apartment. I had brought a few beers which we began to work on, and I decided to record our initial .conversation, during which she told me about herself and her involvement in couchsurfing Throughout our conversation I felt we were both relatively at ease with each other, I found Kamila to be open about her story, her beliefs, and opinions, and I found we had a lot in common. We talked about our shared love for travelling and the importance we place on personal freedom, we discussed how it is really the people you meet along the journey that .make life worthwhile For Kamila, couchsurfing is more than a cost-effective means of travelling, it is a way "not to be afraid of the world or of other people‌ to know you have a friend everywhere, even if it’s a stranger - it's all about trust." She began couchsurfing whilst travelling in Asia, and since moving to Dublin has hosted around 15 people. She receives a lot of couchrequests (perhaps because she lives in a central location), and I was curious to know how she decides who to host in her one-bedroom apartment. Kamila is selective about who she hosts, and so what a person says about themselves on their profile is particularly important, given the intimate size of the apartment. She is most likely to accept couchrequests from people she thinks she might like, or from whom she might learn something new, and differentiates between hosting guys and girls - in certain situations she would be willing to girls without recommendations, but requires references before hosting guys. I figure a lot of girls would .have similar considerations, especially given the fact we shared the same room After talking about couchsurfing for a few minutes, I noticed a cardboard sign lying in the corner if the room, with the word "ANYWHERE" written in large bold letters, like it was meant to be used to flag down a ride while hitch-hiking. This seemed to sum up everything we had just talked about, and so my portrait photographing impulse was naturally aroused, and we ended up doing a short portrait session where I photographed her with the sign while sat on her bed. After that we went out to a local bar, had a couple of pints and had some great craic (irish for good banter!), and stayed on until the bartender closed the place .up for the night We went back to her place, started to watch a movie but gave up in the middle and went to sleep, as she had work the next day. Waking up on an inflatable mattress in an unfamiliar


room is a bit disconcerting, but definitely worth the experience of opening up to a new person and their world, and is definitely something I would do again. After a quick breakfast, we both agreed to remain in contact (she would like to come to Israel some day, so maybe I she could be my guest!), left the apartment to our respective lives, but with a new .realization that maybe strangers are just people we haven’t yet met This was a firsthand experience at how quickly and easily trust can be built between two strangers, especially in a one-on-one situation. I believe that a number of factors contributed :to the development of trust between us a/ we share similar interests in art and creative activity .(b/ we are both connected to Ireland as outsiders (her as an immigrant, I as an ex-pat c/ our previous brief meeting a year before initiated a certain level of trust, that was built .upon by spending the evening together


Yachdav and Shai hosting Scott and Val

Scott (29) and Val (31) are an adventurous couple from the United States who have spent the past 3.5 years travelling the world together. They happened to be couchsurfing with my friend Yachdav who up until then had been a couchsurfing virgin", and so I came by one evening expecting that they would have some interesting couchsurfing experiences to tell me. They had arrived in Israel the night before from a short stay in Jordan which included .couchsurfing with Bedouins at Petra While discussing the relationship between traditional Bedouin hospitality and the couchsurfing community, I learned that the cultural interchange that couchsurfing allows has repercussions both on local culture and politics. Discussing their Bedouin host, Scott and Val emphasized that it was a hugely positive experience, although quite different to what .they would have expected Their hospitality is incredible but we noticed that there's a huge loyalty thing – like if we left " for different hosts the next day it would be very insulting to the original host. They also have a tradition of sharing everything – they don't always realize that Westerners don't always .have that same level of initial trust as they do They would at least expect some money for food and petrol, but that was acceptable to us. By hosting couchsurfers, he gets to meet these new people, who pay for his costs of living and so that seems a pretty fair deal. We got to do things we would never get to do, like walking along a cliff edge at sunset, just us with this Bedouin guy hanging out. Their culture has to a degree become degraded by the American dream, they all have satellite television


and nonsense seems to be replacing many of their traditions. They see these Russian girls on TV and they're like "look they just fuck everybody" and there are definitely some girls that go down there and sleep with them but I think on the whole that is a misperception. There's ."actually some fierce competition between the Bedouins for guests The government and the other hotel owners are not happy about couchsurfing at all – it " takes away income from hostels and the tourist industry. Petra is a huge money-making machine and there's a lot of vested interests. I'm not sure where this will go because the ".government isn't happy about it. Couchsurfing isn't a new thing but its' grown a lot It was not your traditional couchsurfing experience, I definitely didn't expect this. But we " also stayed with this guy in Amman and he had so many Couchsurfers going through, and it was strange because he had such complete trust for his Couchsurfers but he didn't trust anyone else outside of the c/s world – he didn't interact with any of his neighbors Regarding their use of couchsurfing, they see it more as a complementary experience to travelling the world than a system upon which they could base their accomodation arrangements. We're social people but we're also private people, and because whenever we surf we want to get to know our hosts, and spend time with them, we wouldn't just stay at someone's place without interacting with them… that said, I've met some people who like the opposite, in fact we know hosts who prefer it that way, most of those people just want to give back, you'd be surprised how many hosts are like that at least according to profile. Most times we'll go out with our hosts for dinner, and so we don’t even end up saving much money by couchsurfing, but that’s OK because its' not the reason we couchsurf in the first place, and it allows us to spend money on more enjoyable expenses than paying for .accommodation Yachdav is a newcomer to the couchsurfing community, and when he first told some of his friends of his plans to host Scott and Val, their immediate reaction was "Why would you want to host strangers in your house". Yachdav said that he had been thinking about couchsurfing for a while, but what made him decide to go for it was when he saw their profile and thought they would be an interesting couple to meet. Scott and Val both felt obliged to make Yachdavs' first couchsurfing experience memorable, or as they put it; "we wouldn't want you remember this night saying oh yeah we had these boring fuckers come ."over It was clear from the relaxed atmosphere that the two couples felt completely at ease with each other, and from Yachdavs account after Scott and Val left, the experience was overwhelmingly positive. A few factors that contributed to the development of trust and :friendship a/ Scott and Val are a truly unique, fascinating couple, with intriguing travel stories and unusual perspectives on life. Having a unique story to tell is vital to building a trustful, .positive atmosphere b/ Yachdav and Shai are new to couchsurfing, and were excited to begin hosting people. .Their enthusiasm allowed them to spend long periods of time with their guests


c/ Both couples thoroughly researched each other's profiles, and discovered they shared .similar interests and values The arrangement of the participants and other objects in this photograph were heavily influenced by me in this case – Yachdav and Shai live in a small living unit which would have been constrictive to arranging the group, and so I decided to experiment with the icon of the .couch in a context that is more visually connected to travel – ie the street We removed the couch from their living room and brought it out to the parking lot outside the entrance of their house. I requested that Scott and Val remain with their backpacks on, and instructed Yachdav and Shai to stay in their house clothes and to stand at the entrance gate. The posture of each couple (leaning towards each other, close proximity, comfortable .body language) leads the viewer to consider each couple as a separate unit The physical distance and difference in appearance between the hosts and guests created a clear distinction between the two couples and their roles in the couchsurfing equation of hosts/guests, while imposing a domestic element (the couch) in a context that is traditionally .(associated with public space (emphasized by the parked cars, tree, and half a bench By displacing the couchsurfing experience from the space that it is traditionally associated with (ie the living room), and imposing it on a "public" space, I believe that the interpersonal .relations receive more emphasis


Netanel and Lily Netanel is a 28 year old tour guide who is well known to be active in the couchsurfing community since 2007. He specializes in guided bike tours around Jerusalem, and for the past 7 years he has been living in his family's 3 bedroom apartment (his mother divorced, remarried, and then moved out, leaving him the place) in Bet Hakerem– a neighborhood considered to be one of the last "strongholds" of secularism in a city becoming more and more religious. At the time of the interview he was living alone in the apartment (he has .been through 20 housemates over the years!), and was hosting Lily – a French videographer I first became involved in couchsurfing because I wanted to improve my English. I have a big " apartment, which can get lonely, and so what started as hosting a couple of people turned into hosting dozens and then eventually hundreds of people! Recently I've been hosting less people because I haven't got as much time, but there were times where every week I would host maybe 4 or 5 people. I was involved in organizing couchsurfing meetings and ."moderating the Jerusalem c/s group When asked regarding the degree of diversity in representation of sectors in Jerusalem who are involved in couchsurfing (beyond the typical profile of young, secular Jewish Israelis), he mentioned religious Jews (even a Rabbi) who are active, but it would seem that the Arab .residents of Jerusalem are not yet represented Apart from hosting, Netanel has also couchsurfed in other cities within Israel, such as Haifa and Tel Aviv, which he apparently is quite rare. Compared to other cities, Netanel feels that couchsurfing is not as big as it could be in Jerusalem, and believes that more can be done to help the community to grow. He estimates that there are maybe 10 people in the city who


are intensely involved in hosting on a weekly basis, and believes that the decision to make .the couchsurfing website into a profitable organization has put some people off the idea He also believes that there are many times when visitors are not aware of the unspoken :etiquette of couchsurfing Very often I'll get a couchrequest from people with short profiles and no references for say " 3 people who need a couch on their way to a pilgrimage, because they see couchsurfing as a "?cheap way to travel, but what incentive do I have to host them Lily agreed, but mentioned that if she noticed a new member with no references who had invested the time in building an informative profile, she would be more likely to host them because they had at least made an effort. Both Lily and Netanel feel that from their experience, people generally live up to the way they portray themselves on their profile, and .seem to take members profiles as reliable indications of their personality Netanel had only 2 negative hosting experiences: in one case he hosted an Egyptian girl who ran away back to Cairo in the middle of her stay with no warning, and in another he hosted a girl who tried to seduce him despite his lack of interest. But there was a different situation where hosting another girl through c/s did lead to romance: "There was a mutual attraction and we went very slow because I wanted to be sure that we were both comfortable with it, I ."don't host in order to find romance, but sometimes this can happen unexpectedly Lily started couchsurfing in the United States while doing a road trip with her sister in order .to have a more authentic experience You get to meet people you wouldn't have met otherwise. At the beginning of our trip we " didn’t have any references, but the first people who hosted us understood that you have to begin somewhere… couchsurfing is huge in the US – so we didn't have any problem finding a place to stay. We generally had wonderful experiences, although we did meet this creepy guy who aimed to host the record number of people at his place – his place was always packed with people, but there was a lot of negative feedback on his wall from women saying that if you're a girl and you're on your own, just don't go there. We didn't end up staying .with him I live together with my sister, and so when we got back to Paris we decided to host ".couchsurfers from all different countries in our living room, which we do until the present Lily decided to come to Israel as part of a video project interviewing local Israeli's and Palestinians. She believes that too many Europeans have strong opinions on what happens in Israel without having ever been here, and so she decided to come and make her own .impression I find all the Israeli's I've met to be very friendly, if I get lost somewhere everyone wants to " try and help, whereas Paris is a totally different world – if you ask a French person for help on the street they'll almost run away because most of the French are terrified of speaking !English


Netanel and Lily were comfortable in each other's company as veteran Couchsurfers with ample experiences as both hosts and guests. Couchsurfers who are aware of the unwritten "couchsurfing etiquette" are likely to develop trust with more ease than members who are not familiar with these expectations (refer to section "creating trust"). Before photographing I requested that Lily place her backpack on the couch as an additional visual element of the couchsurfing experience. I photographed the two while interviewing them, and decided to include the cat as another domestic element. From first sight it is unclear who is the host and who is the guest, although there are certain hints in the body language of Netanel (sitting at an elevated height on the arm of the couch, playing with the cat‌) that dominate .the relationship formed between the two

Further Analysis of additional photographs

.(Ya'ara with and Julia and Uli (left to right

All participants in this photograph were asked to sit naturally in whatever position they found comfortable. Julia and Uli, a travelling couple from Germany, decided to sit next to each other on the same couch, but did not make any body contact, while Ya'ara, the host, sat alone on the other couch. I found it interesting to include elements that indicated a high comfort level – Julia covered her lap in a blanket, all three removed their shoes - a typical indication of feeling at home, and all three are in some way resting their feet on the couch, .indicating a certain level of intimacy


Their posture is generally relaxed, and their facial expressions are calm. Altogether, I would say that this photo indicates a high level of trust and comfort, while maintaining a certain .level of respectful distance

Me hosting Dawid

This photograph (taken using a timer and tripod) portrays one of my own couchsurfing experiences in my old apartment, hosting Dawid, a Polish computer technician. We both felt comfortable in each other's company, and our postures seem to reflect a similar comfort level. The angle from which the photograph is taken gives equal emphasis to each of us, and the only elements which hint to the guest-host relationship is possible the bag and camera in .the foreground beside Dawid The photograph was taken during Hanukkah, as evidenced by the Menorah beside the window, and this seems relevant to the couchsurfing experience in Jerusalem, where people .come from foreign cultures to experience the local culture Hanukkah is traditionally a family festival, and the lighting of the candles is a collective activity where the household gathers around and commemorates the Jewish Maccabee's .victory over foreign persecution Living in a shared house with roommates, the family experience receives a new context, and the inviting of strangers to share in this experience indicates a more inclusive approach to .the celebration of a national holiday


Me hosting Julien, Annem and Claire

The above photographs were each taken in my new house, and mark the first time I hosted .(four people simultaneously (one couchsurfer is absent In the first 3 shots I requested that each guest sit on the couch with their backpack and look at the camera. Visually, it is clear from the context of those photographs that they are guests, yet despite the presence of the two central icons of couchsurfing – the backpack and couch – without including the host, little can be learned about the nature of the .couchsurfing experience in the context of the formation of trust The last photograph, though more spontaneous, is more indicative of the trust that develops through the couchsurfing experience – the physical proximity and contact, the casual posture and facial expression provides, in my opinion, more insight into what motivates .people to couchsurf


Summary The couchsurfing experience provides a new perspective on the potential of the internet to act as a catalyst in transforming traditional modes of hospitality and intercultural exchange. The inherent value system that underlies the couchsurfing community provides a model of trust formation that may prove useful in challenging local tensions and suspicion in .Jerusalem As demonstrated above, photography may be effectively used in portraying trust relationships and representing diverse individuals in a manner that transcends group stereotypes. In this context, the +IMPACT Bottle Project aims to explore the extent to which photography can act as a trust-building medium, by positively portraying individuals of diverse cultures. More details can be seen at www.impactbottle.com

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‫ הספרייה הוירטואלית של המרכז‬.‫ ממסעות הפלמ"ח עד המוצ'ילרוס‬,‫ נסיה‬,‫שפרן‬ ‫לטכנולוגיה חינוכית‬

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Culler, J (1990). The Semiotics of Tourism. Framing the Sign: Criticism and its' .institutions. University of Oklahoma Press

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Toma, Catalina L. (2010), Perceptions of trustworthiness online: the role of visual .and textual information. Association for Computing Machinery

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Steichen, E. (ed.) (1986) [1955]. The Family of Man. New York: The Museum of .Modern Art, distributed by Simon & Schuster

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Barthes, R. (1985). Rhetoric of the image. In R. Barthes (ed.). The Responsibility of .(Forms

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Sheleff, L. (2002). Geo-Journal 53, Kluwer Academic Publishers

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Couchsurfing in Jerusalem  
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