Friday, September 9, 2011

Sorry for the Mess

This is the most common phrase a hotel doctor hears. Sometimes I hear it as I step into the room, more often when I look for a place to set down my paperwork because all surfaces are piled with discarded clothes, toilet articles, food wrappers, luggage.

A messy room does not greatly embarrass guests. This is not the case when, after putting a thermometer in a guest’s mouth,I announce that I will wash my hands. That produces a minor panic as someone hurries into the bathroom to clear away another mess and search, sometimes in vain, for a clean towel.

A final ritual is collecting my fee. Technology makes accepting credit cards easy although the company takes about five percent for the convenience. Using a phone, I dial a computer whose automated voice instructs me to enter half a dozen codes (my bank number, my merchant number, the credit card number…). In the past I used the room phone until I noticed guests looking uneasy and remembered that hotels charge for calls. Now I use my cell phone, an awkward alternative because the small keypad encourages mistakes. At the end, the computer announces its approval and recites an authorization code which I dutifully copy. Occasionally, in an ominous tone, it denies approval, and I laboriously re-enter everything. If this doesn’t work, there is a scramble as guests search for another card or their wallets.

Cash-paying foreign guests take time counting out my fee because all American bills look alike. Around the world, denominations vary by color, so a quick glance tells a native its value. I think America is the only nation with monochromatic money.

When guests mention their difficulty, I joke that Americans find colored bills frivolous, like Monopoly money. Real money is green.

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