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The The Best Part of Staying in Hotels? They Can’t Say, “No”

Has the ‘home away from home’ mentality gone too far?

The entrance of The Plaza Hotel, New York.

In a fictional world where “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, chaos ensues. In reality, when hotel guests are freed of monotony and enter a luxurious playground designed to cater to every whim and fancy, bad behavior is not only inevitable but allowed thanks to a long-established, one-sided rule: “The customer is always right.”

Restaurant critic Tejal Rao emphasizes the “dysfunction at the heart of the business” of hospitality. Rao argues, “It’s never been reasonable to expect infinite generosity, but that idea has still shaped the industry in countless ways.” At the heart of hotels, especially luxury hotels, rests this relentless need to please.

Common decency becomes stymied by the barrier between guest and host. When guests enter a five-star hotel, they not only expect to find world-class amenities and opulence but also want to be made feel at home. The responsibility is with the staff to personalize the stay and eliminate any accountability on the guest’s part.

And what follows is a sense of entitlement.

The Stanley Hotel, is the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
The isolated Overlook Hotel in The Shining (1980) is far from welcoming. Credit: Shutterstock/Mitchell Meffert

What is considered bad behavior in a hotel?

Starting simple: smoking in a non-smoking room, being a bit of a pest, going against your better judgment and stealing the cotton bathrobe, not declaring what you took from the minibar, and not tipping the baggage porter. If only these minor faux pas were the extent of it.

If Keith Richards’ antics in 1972 at the Continental Hyatt House (now the Andaz West Hollywood) taught us anything, throwing a TV out the window qualifies as bad behavior. And leaving items like a prosthetic limb, an urn, or a loaded gun is certainly undesirable. Guests don’t consider the employees who are left to clean up after them.

The Chelsea Hotel in New York.
Jackson Pollock famously vomited on Chelsea’s carpet, creating a drunken masterpiece of sorts. Credit: Shutterstock/Spiroview Inc

Hotel behavior on-screen

In series

Between 2012 and 2014, Oscar-nominated actor Richard E. Grant allowed us to live vicariously through him thanks to a well-documented insight into some of the world’s most exclusive hotels in his series, Hotel Secrets. The series included every scandalous story and frivolous detail, from interviews with Donald Trump to shots of Grant running around the large-scale Augustus Suite at Caesars Palace.

“It’s what Napoleon said about a throne being only a bench covered in velvet. The bed that you slept in? Tomorrow night somebody else will be sleeping in it. That’s the great egalitarian nature of staying in a hotel. No matter how ponced up it is, it’s still a room for hire.”

Richard E. Grant. ‘Backstage at the world’s best hotels’, an interview for The Independent, Oct 2012

Grant’s deconstruction of a hotel down to nothing more than a space available for hire is repeatedly demonstrated. HBO series The White Lotus plays out at two high-end Four Seasons Hotels and is an entertaining blend of toxic relationships, abuses of power, and wealth.

Everything, from the insecure Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge) hysterically confronting her husband in public to Murray Bartlett’s scene where he vengefully defecates in a suitcase, is erased once the season’s set of guests check out and return home.

Entrance to the Beverly Hills Hotel, CA.
If the walls at the Beverly Hills Hotel could talk, they’d say, “Gore Vidal’s mother had an affair with Clark Gable in Bungalow 1.” Credit: Shutterstock/Eric Glenn

In film and literature

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a symmetrical production that also reveals hotel life from both the staff’s and guests’ points of view. The exemplary subservience of concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) is muddied by his illicit affairs with rich women staying in the hotel. But even when he faces charges for Madame D’s murder, he maintains The Grand Budapest’s standards. After his murder, life at the hotel goes on as Zero takes over.

F. Scott Fitzgerald sets the scene where Gatsby’s idealistic world collapses as Daisy admits, “Even alone I can’t say I never loved Tom,” at the Plaza Hotel in New York. And Jack is even left frozen in the maze (The Shining). What is the common factor between these moments? The hotel doesn’t carry any upset or bad memories with it. Either the sheets are changed for the next guests, or a defective boiler explodes.

When bad behavior is used for good

John Lennon and Yoko Ono Bed-in for Peace.
During the bed-in at the hotel in Montreal, “Give Peace A Chance” was recorded. Credit: Shutterstock/meunierd

There are some moral exceptions when it comes to ignoring hotel policies and causing a stir. For instance, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 bed-ins promoted peace. As the press swarmed around their second bed-in which took place at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, people were simultaneously inspired and took to the streets to protest against the war in Vietnam. While the hotel management let the protest continue for eight days, not all the other guests were pleased.

Where do the complaints about noise and crowds of people come in in a case like this? Better judgment tells us that in the grander scheme of things, the complaints should be considered irrelevant.

Black and white photography of the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel, with a very moody sky.
The room in which the bed-in for peace took place is now the John Lennon and Yoko Ono Suite. Credit: Shutterstock/Awana JF

The rise in ‘love hotels’

Scandal is undoubtedly alive and well in the hotel industry. Guests continue to feel free to run wild up and down hallways and trash their rooms. They also have full-blown arguments in lobbies, and now even wield the weapon of TripAdvisor and other travel platforms. Furthermore, all the sexual shenanigans and taboo-breaking of the past are taking place in ever so discrete places like ‘love hotels’.

Made popular in Japan, a love hotel is for short stays. Confidential parking arrangements are made, number plates are covered, and privacy is paramount. La França, a love hotel in Barcelona offers erotic kits, 24-hour room service, and love-themed rooms. It also provides a tunnel for unseen entry by car and can only be reserved by couples. More specifically, love hotels are “immovable sex-related establishments.”

Bedsheets and pillows.
Love hotels allow guests to check in for between 2 to 12 hours. Credit: Shutterstock/Jes2u.photo

Ultimately, hotels are not a home away from home

Is behaving disrespectfully in hotels something that’s been passed on by generations of hotel guests? Guests might be encouraged by a precedent and mindset of carefree enjoyment sustained by centuries of hedonism. It’s a possibility. And with tourists receiving a lot of bad press post-Covid, now might be a good time to become more aware.

“Make yourself at home’, this is a self-limiting invitation… it means: please feel at home, act as if you were at home, but, remember, that is not true, this is not your home but mine, and you are expected to respect my property.”

J. Derrida, ‘Of hospitality’

If hotels were to take a leaf out of Derrida’s hospitality book, they might discover a right to assert more authority over guests. But, where’s the fun in that?

Written By

Hi there! My name is Anna-Maya and I'm from Ireland. After graduating from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in English Studies, I moved to Barcelona to discover a different pace of life. Writing, good company, food, and travel, in that order, form my list of priorities.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Julianna Holland

    January 27, 2024 at 5:30 pm

    Wonderfully written piece. Entertaining, informative and extremely engaging style.

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