Wow! Tonight we had a really scary experience. A Russian couple came to stay with us a week ago. We’ve had several Russians stay with us and we’ve never had a single problem at all. But they were all from Moscow, a very international city and they were what I call “internationalized”. Meaning, they adhered to international norms of behavior and they understood the ways of the world outside of Russia.
But when these people first arrived, I immediately got a bad feeling. One, because they were from some really small town near the Black Sea - far outside of the major metropolitan areas of Russia. Two, they barely spoke a word of English and we’ve had to communicate mostly via Google Translate (thank God for that)! And three, they were obviously very much ‘country’ people who had never travelled outside of Russia.
The first problem came up when I tried to teach them how to use the security system and the lock on the door. The guy had a total mental block towards our alarm system. I showed him five times how to use it, and he still couldn’t get it. To this day (their 8th day with us), they still refuse to lock the door when they leave or return and they refuse to turn the alarm system back on after they come home. But since my wife and I live here, we just decided to leave them alone about it and we would finish everything up after they came home for the night.
We also have a security camera in plain view in the shared living room/dining area of the apartment. The camera is so obvious. It’s this huge (5" x 5") white camera with two blinking green lights on it that our alarm company installed for us. It’s setup on a table that’s right next to the dining table and it points towards the front door. A portion of the dining table is in its view. Every night for eight nights they’ve eaten dinner at the dinning table sitting just a couple of feet away from it. But apparently they didn’t notice it until last night and when they did notice it they became enraged.
We rarely check it, it doesn’t record audio or video and it can only be used for “live” viewing. The only times we look at it are when we may want to go into the kitchen to cook a meal and we just want to check to see if any guests are using the kitchen. If they are we’ll wait until they finish. But it is also for security purposes, in case we heard any loud or strange noises out there we’d check the camera before going in to see what was going on. Anyway, it just seemed like a good idea to have a camera out there when you’re going to have several hundred strangers waltzing through your apartment every year.
Without our knowing it (because we don’t look at it all that often), the guy had written a note on a piece of paper and placed it against the wall and then turned the camera around to face the note. We never saw the note on camera and when he came home and realized we hadn’t seen it, he got really angry and picked the note up, shoved it into my wife’s hand just as she walked into the kitchen and yelled at her.
My wife came back to tell me what had happened and handed me the note. The note said, “This is your house! but! you should have warned you watching us! is VILE!”
So I go out to talk to the guy and through Google Translate he accused us of having a hidden camera that he had found in the bedroom! I said, “show me”! He declined. He had to decline because there was no hidden camera in the bedroom. Then he kept pointing to the very obvious camera in the living room and said, “What’s that? What’s that?” I answered that, “it’s a security camera”. He said, “why didn’t you tell us about it?” I said, “it’s right there, everyone can see it!” And he kept yelling “you should have told us!” Then he started asking “why is it there, why isn’t it mounted on the wall?” I looked at him and shrugged, like I didn’t understand the question - because I didn’t. What difference does it make if it’s on the table at stomach height or a few inches higher mounted on the wall?
Anyway, he got so angry and said it was “unconscionable” what we had done. He kept saying, “you were watching us, you were watching us, you are perverts!” (Like even if we had watched, it would somehow make us perverts to watch two people cook dinner"). He was yelling and I was actually scared about what he might do at that point. Was he going to start a physical fight? Or throw things at me? I didn’t know. I tried to calm him down and explain why we had it but through the language barrier, it was almost impossible to do when he was so angry.
I went back into our bedroom with my wife and locked the door. I waited for a while - half expecting him to come barging through the door. A few minutes later my wife went into the kitchen to get something and when she came back she said they were in there eating.
So I thought it might a good idea to go back in to talk to them calmly and try to explain what happened. I know in situations like that, if the person can see you again and see that you’re not mad and that you feel badly that they were so upset it can help calm them down. So, I went to my computer and typed out a longer message than I was able to give him in person, explaining why we have the camera and that in America it’s perfectly legal to have a camera in plain view that’s in a public area of the house. Then I apologized for upsetting them and told him I felt terrible that this had made such a bad impression on him.
I had it translated and then printed it out. I just hoped to God that the translation was fairly accurate! When I got out there he had seemed to calm down a great deal so I handed him the note. He read it very slowly, trying to comprehend what was no doubt some confusing Russian. And then he looked up and said, “OK”. Then I told him verbally how sorry I was for upsetting him. This seemed to really calm him down. Then my wife came in and suddenly started trying to explain (again) why we had the camera. At this, the Russian man put his hand up and said, “stop, just stop”! Meaning, he had had enough of the conversation. So she stopped and apologized and then we left.
He was still very upset. But between the time I first talked to him and then talked to him again later, I contacted Airbnb to tell them what had happened - because I did feel some fear for our physical safety at that point.
What I guess was most upsetting is what Airbnb wrote back and said. They said this:
"Please be advised that video and audio surveillance equipment in places where people may have a reasonable expectation of privacy may violate the law in a number of U.S. states. You represent that you are compliant with all local laws regarding surveillance.
On Airbnb, prior notice to your guest and consent as required by law is mandatory. If a guest denies consent and wishes to cancel their reservation, Airbnb will allow cancellation without penalty to the guest and all applicable penalties for a host cancellation will apply. If we determine that surveillance equipment has been used in violation of applicable legal requirements, your account will be reviewed under the Airbnb Terms of Service. It would be appropriate to note this on the Description and House Rules sections on your listing’s page."
That was pretty disconcerting to get such a harsh message from them about this from Airbnb. The camera is not in violation of any state law, as it is in plain view and it’s in the most public area of the whole apartment. But to think that some know-nothing bureaucrat at Airbnb might determine on their own that it’s illegal and deactivate our account is pretty unbelievable.