What if no one ever picks you?
The horrors of hospiteren
Computer science student Menno Robben was gobsmacked when he interviewed for a room at the Zuiderpark, a fancy, wooded neighbourhood near the central train station. The house itself was a grand villa, but inside, the kitchen was a total mess and it was clear the inhabitants’ lifestyles were all about booze. Then again, he really needed a room, and the only way to get this one was through an interviewing party.
When he refused to knock back a beer, the inhabitants of the house booed him. To add insult to injury, they asked him what kind of fruit he thought he might be. ‘I said: “Sorry guys, but I’m not even going to answer that question, because it sucks”’, Menno says.
It wasn’t the first time he was rejected for a room, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time. He had to go to at least thirteen of these ‘hospiteerborrels’ before he got a room.
Some people are just lucky. All they have to do is show up with a bottle of booze and someone offers them a room. Others don’t quite manage this. Lieuwe Roorda, a student of English language and culture, says it’s ‘a hopeless game of chance’. ‘First you have to write something good to draw their attention. And then you just have to hope you click with the people in the house, that they click with you, and not with someone else. And you have to keep your fingers crossed that the house is actually nice.’
I’m much more myself if I don’t think too much. Not that this got me a room, of course
Menno says his nerves are to blame for his shoddy performance during his first few interviewing nights. He was often younger than the people who already lived in the house, and he was new to the ins and outs of student life. He decided to prepare himself. ‘I just came up with the answer to some standard questions. Like what my hobbies were or which animal I would be.’
But the more of these interviewing parties he went, the more blasé he became. ‘I was just so over getting all worked up. I just decided to have a nice night. I’m much more myself if I don’t think too much. Not that this got me a room, of course. But at least I could say I showed them the real me.’
Middle Eastern studies student Rande Duhoky, who was rejected twenty to thirty times, was asked what kind of cleaning supply she would be. ‘I said a dish scrubber, because I’m always clean. It was a difficult question, but it’s not like anyone actually takes the answer seriously.
Lieuwe Roorda, who was rejected thirteen times, was asked ‘what would you say if a hot chick sat down next to you in the pub?’ ‘But I’m a transgender woman, so if there’s a beautiful woman next to me I’d probably want to look like her. But they didn’t know that.’
Would it have gone better if Lieuwe had been upfront about her gender identity? ‘They may have noticed that I was holding something back.’ Then again, when she applied to women-only houses and divulged that was transgender and still had to transition. More than once, she was told: ‘Sorry, we’re looking for people who are already female.’ ‘That wasn’t very encouraging.’
So how honest should you be? How true to yourself? According to Rance, a little performance is just par for the course at these events. ‘At one interview, the inhabitants said they all loved sports and often worked out together. This girl I’d seen before at other interviewing parties said she was also super into sports, when I’d heard her say she didn’t like them at all at a different house. So I was like, no you’re not… Or are you?’
Menno wasn’t quite upfront when he exaggerated how much he enjoyed cycling when he saw that a girl had a racing bike in her room. ‘I’d only just bought my crappy little racing bike and only took it out once every three months. I felt a little dishonest, but then again, it wasn’t entirely made up.’
The safe choice usually gets the room
Rande drew the conclusion that in order to get a room, you have to be a chameleon. The person who manages to connect with the inhabitants and make themselves look good, wins. Lying does help. ‘But I wanted to be myself. I didn’t want to have to sell a different version of me. I kind of regret that now. If I’d stuck to my principals a little less, I might have had a room by now.’
After a while, Menno started to see a pattern in the types of people who were successful and the types of people who weren’t. ‘Here in Groningen, people want you to be normal. Anyone who’s different or interesting is seen as a risk. That means the safe choice usually gets the room: blonde girls who play field hockey, finish their degree in four years, and like going out and drinking wine.’
Rande agrees that people in Groningen tend to quickly label others as weird. There is little diversity, she says. The fact that certain people are always rejected is because it takes more than ten minutes to get to know someone. ‘I told my boyfriend that if we ever broke up I should be the one to find a new room, as I didn’t want to wish the process of hospiteren on him. I don’t think he’ll have an easy time getting picked.’
Lieuwe also needs more than ten minutes. Once, she was asked what skills she was just no good at. ‘I said I sucked at talking to people I didn’t know, while someone else said she couldn’t do a handstand. Of course they immediately made her try it. I’m glad I got out of that one.’
I had a good feeling, but I was casually rejected three weeks later. I was crushed
On top of that, the student culture in the houses she interviewed was vastly different to what she was used to. ‘I don’t really get along with people who only want to party. I got drunk just once in my life. I came out as transgender to my Reformed parents over WhatsApp. Once and never again.’
She didn’t realise this cultural difference until later. ‘During the interviewing process I just always wondered what I was doing wrong, or what was wrong with me.’ Some people where so enthusiastic when she was there that she had a good feeling about it. ‘But then I was casually rejected three weeks later. I was crushed.’
Rande also found the disappointment hard to handle. She also hated that feeling in the pit of her stomach that one of her competitors was more fun that her. ‘After interviewing for more than ten rooms I started to believe that I wasn’t the social butterfly I thought I was. Apparently I’d hung out with a lot of unsocial people before and they’d just made me look good.’
Rande’s top tip for students planning to go hospiteren? ‘Just don’t do it. And if you’ve got no choice but you realise halfway during the evening that it’s not going to work out, you can just leave. You’ve got better things to do. There’s always another opportunity around the corner.’
Menno has a more positive attitude. ‘Just think of it as a fun night to hang out with some people and have a few beers. You might even get a room out of the deal.’