A sit-com breakfast with the girl from China…

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SHE is tiny and lively, the girl from China. And unexpectedly she wants to talk about British sit-coms. “The IT Crowd!” she says, laughing. “And Black Books – I love Black Books.”

You discover surprising things when you are an Airbnb host. Who knew that young Chinese people loved our sitcoms? She is only here for the night this guest, a passing delight. She is lively company, full of stories, and her English is excellent. She tells me that she is studying Maths. “You must be clever,” I say. “That is a stereotype,” she says, laughing again.

She is twenty and from the south of China, attends a university in the north, and as part of her studies she is on a course in Sweden. “Meatballs,” she says. “I hate those meatballs.” She likes the Swedish people, though. “They are very modest and friendly,” she says. It’s just those meatballs she cannot hack.

She came to York to visit Castle Howard, which she loved. Other guests have come for that reason, too. Sometimes local attractions are not as local as you thought. She’ll be spending the day in York before heading to London. She’s already been to Glasgow and Edinburgh. She loved both cities, especially Glasgow, she says, although at first she couldn’t understand a word anyone said. Not an uncommon experience.

I ask about her parents and she says that her father runs an advertising agency. “Is that unusual in China – running an advertising agency?” I ask. “Nothing is unusual in China,” she says. She tells me more about her studies and her life, more about China. She talks and talks. And I think how lovely it can be to have strangers in the house. I’d never met this young woman until last night, and here she is, chatting away, telling me so much. I don’t reveal a lot in return, because I am in a trough lately and because she is so lively that my stories would struggle to keep up.

Not for the first time I think this is fun; having people to stay opens up the world in surprising ways. Such as finding out that young Chinese people watch British sit-coms with subtitles, and arrive here full of cultural references. “Dylan Moran – he is genius.”

She tells me that she saw Bill Bailey’s stand-up show in London and loved the experience. “That man is so clever and plays so many instruments.” The politics went over her head, she says, but she loved everything else.

On the news the steel crisis rumbles on and many people blame China for dumping cheap steel on the market. International relations are tricky to maintain. Yet here in our modest house – “This is a lovely house. Can I take a photograph?” – international relations seem to be ticking over just fine.

We are heading into York and give our guest a lift. “Thank you. I have very much enjoyed staying in your house.” Then she is gone, to be replaced by an Argentinian man with an impressive beard. I’m typing this as I wait for him to surface for breakfast. And tomorrow there’s an actor coming for the week.

Life isn’t easy at present in this house, but it has its moments…


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