Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Human Nature

An elderly Mexican psychoanalyst was attending a psychoanalytic convention, but a cold was making her so miserable that she wanted to return home early.

This seemed an excellent call in many ways. It arrived during the evening rush hour, but the Royal Palace was only two miles away. It was my first visit to that hotel, always a delight, and I planned to introduce myself to the management. Finally, the lady’s stuffy ears dominated her concerns, so she probably wouldn’t demand useless antibiotics which Latin American doctors prescribe for colds as often as we do.

Everything proceeded smoothly. I finished my traditional lecture on preventing ear pain when flying (generous use of nasal sprays); she expressed gratitude and laid down an American Express card.

American Express charges a larger service fee than other credit cards, so some companies that handle transactions don’t cover them. That includes mine, but I wasn’t concerned. So far everyone has had cash or another credit card, but on learning that I only accept Visa or Master Card, she expressed dismay. She only used American Express, she explained. Her plane left the next morning, and all she had was cab fare.

While I considered my next move, she snatched the phone, dialed the front desk, and poured out her distress. The doctor they recommended wouldn’t take her credit card; she had no money, and she needed help. I cringed at this terrible P.R. She wasn’t complaining about me, but it’s never good for a hotel to hear a guest having problems with the doctor. Luxury hotels will advance money and add it to the bill, but the Royal Palace, while comfortable, was not in that class. The desk clerk suggested she find an ATM.

Long ago, I drove a guest in search of an ATM, and I’ll never do it again. Begging my forgiveness, she swore that when she returned to Mexico City she would phone with the number of an acceptable credit card. I had no other suggestion, so I brushed off her apologies, and we parted on good terms.

That was several weeks ago; I don’t expect to hear from her.

My practice where almost no one see me a second time and everyone lives far away is a supreme test of integrity, and it’s discouraging how few measure up. Guests have already agreed on the fee before I arrive, so it’s rare that I leave unpaid. When this happens, guests are invariably upset and embarrassed. Once home and aware that there will be no unpleasant consequences if they don’t pay, only about twenty percent come across.

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