Culture of Trust

On the radio this morning I heard this story on NPR Morning Edition about the rapidly growing “Sharing Economy.” Talking about AirBnB, a web site I have used successfully as a host and guest, I heard this statement:

Renting out a home, your home, for the weekend on the Internet to complete strangers is kind of a radical idea. 

In 1977, as a young American student abroad, I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland at the beginning of the reknowned Edinburgh International Festival, and needed a place to stay. It’s a notoriously difficult time for last minute lodgings. I was there to begin my school year in a special program for young educators, and had no idea what the festival was all about.

edinburgh suburbsBut my first amazing experience was meeting my new landlords. A couple with three kids, and a house in the ‘burbs, rented me their spare bedroom. I arrived, Mrs. Fraser showed me to my room, a basic suburban bedroom. Loo down the hall.

“Help yourself to a cuppa, or anything you need, dear. We have to go out, we’ll see you later, or not.” She smiled, and handed me a house key then  she and her family waved goodbye.

I had just embarked on my life’s biggest adventure. I was dazed and travel weary and disoriented and amazed. But I was particularlry astonished by the generosity and trust of complete strangers a world away, just welcoming me into their home. Just like that.

It was an experience repeated many times in Scotland, Shetland, the Hebrides… a warm and generous welcome offered to a traveling stranger. It felt like something that would never happen back home in suburban Detroit. And I marveled at this culture of trust.

One of my Uni professors told us a tale over a pint, about an American couple who were unable to find anyplace to stay during the Festival. He told them “Come home with me, we’ll make room for ye.” They fled from him, suspicious of anyone who would offer to take them home ‘just like that.’ He commented: “Americans are suspicious folk.”

Years later, as a host on the newly-launched airBnB I welcomed a young couple to my home for two weeks. The timing was perfect for me, and for them. They loved my pets, enjoyed the house and became new friends.  It only took 35 years for Americans to let down their guard.

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