The couch count

Houseguests and headaches in Florence

Mary Gray
May 27, 2016 - 11:15

Who doesn’t love June in Florence? The morning light hits the Arno just so; sunsets seem sweeter when delayed; and piazza life picks up its early-summer steam. Though I’m generally good-natured about the high tourist season in Florence, I’ve found that the influx can get ugly when it hits too close to home—or, rather, when it comes inside your home. Kindergarten classmates. Former crushes. That one uncle (or cousin once removed?) who you can never remember exactly how you’re related to. Once they learn you live in Florence, these sorts of characters tend to emerge from the woodwork, conveniently just before they board the plane to Peretola.




Last year, a hometown acquaintance I’d hardly spoken to since our shared turn as lambs in the church Christmas pageant found me on Facebook after a supermarket run-in with my mother, who told exaggerated tales of my Florentine adventures. It turned out this girl was planning a lengthy solo trip through Rome, London and Paris, so she decided to throw Florence into the mix—but only if I had space to spare. I reluctantly conceded that yes, I had a couch—to which she responded that she’d arrive June 13. And to let her know when to book her flight to Paris. Confused, I asked why she needed my input. With her travel and long-term plans so “up in the air,” she explained, she figured she’d stay in Florence “for as long as you’ll have me, I guess.”

Long-lost family friends are just one species of The Summer Guest.


Long-lost family friends are just one species of The Summer Guest, however. Equally presumptuous, but hilariously memorable, are the “befriendable” backpackers passing through.

Last San Giovanni, faced with the fatal combination of post-breakup blues and an ill-timed karaoke outing, a flatmate found herself toting a smooth-talking Australian traveler back to our bunking quarters. Cringing sheepishly come daybreak, and knowing his trip would take him elsewhere later that evening, she made stovetop coffee and quickly sent him on his way.


We came home that night to find him standing nonchalantly on our doorstep, laptop in hand: “Hey, can I come upstairs to use you guys’ WiFi for a minute? I had to check out of my hostel at noon and don’t know where else to go.”


Mortified but ever merciful, my housemate handed him the Fastweb password, making sure he knew that was all he’d be getting. He chose that moment to announce he was “thinking of staying in Florence for a few more weeks, if you’d like that and, you know, have room.”


There was also my brief dip into Florence’s Couchsurfing pool: another housemate and I put up a Portuguese mother-daughter pair, whose profile set off no serious red flags.


As any self-respecting hostess would, I exclaimed, “Make yourself at home!” with abandon. It dawned on me that I didn’t actually mean it when I found the mother’s false teeth soaking in the kitchen sink, and returned home from work to witness both women Skype-shouting in their skivvies on the terrace. I’d heard of Stendhal syndrome, but I’d never seen anyone quite so moved by a view of Brunelleschi’s dome.


In spite of these experiences, it’s tough to stay bothered by tone-deaf behavior when you have Tuscany to distract you. I’ve enjoyed the colorful cast of characters I’ve offered my couch, pep-talked as they whine-walked toward piazzale Michelangelo or coached through their first ATAF or aperitivo experience. Teaching “Florence 101” is fulfilling and watching anyone take in this city for the first time reminds you of why you chose it in the first place.


That said, I think I’ll limit my couch count to blood relatives and a sacred few friends in the coming seasons.

more articles