Stranger in a Strange Land
(When Home is a Destination spot)
Strangers in Strange Lands
My husband works at a five-star hotel and the stories he comes home with are enough fodder for at least several novels and a salacious television series. “Last night a couple from Minnesota pulled the dresser from the wall and checked for dust,” he tells me, “and then complained ad nauseam when they found a hair.” As if the housekeeping staff is made up of Russian shot putters on steroids whose job it is to rearrange the furniture. It’s not enough that these poor women (it’s mostly women) have only half an hour per room to wipe away all the comings and goings of the former occupant. No, they must feed the delusion of the new tenant in such a way that they believe they are the only person who has ever inhabited the room. A hotel suite is not a private residence and a pillow out of place is not proof that there’s been a home invasion.
What I find fascinating is how holidays and unmet expectations can turn into a nightmare for those catering to tourists. The same people who, in 1793 would have cheered to have Marie Antoinette beheaded for not understanding the plight of the peasant, in this day and age behave like the most over-indulged people on earth; ordering the staff around as though they have nothing better to do than genuflect in their presence. Recently a man and his wife berated the hotel manager because of the size of the mattress. “Like hell that’s a queen!” the woman puffed, her face and neck turning red beneath her polyester v neck. “You go get me a tape measure and I’ll prove to you that it’s not a queen! I demand an upgrade!” Ever since the invention of the computer and the ability to post comments on websites, travelers have learned how to turn the potential of a negative comment on trip advisor into an upgrade. It’s a condoned form of blackmail. “I saw a spider in the room. I want a free upgrade.” “I’m too close to the ice machine. I want a free upgrade.” “I don’t like the view from my window. I want …” And don’t even get me started on wedding guests. Two dysfunctional families gathering under one roof and hating every second of the expensive event for which they are paying. Unable to find someone to take it all out on, they direct their attention to the hotel staff who are so unreasonable as to ask the parents of the bride to move their car from the handicapped parking spot. They have it in their mind that spending all that money means they can do whatever they want, whenever they want including peeing in the planters and exfoliating in the hot tub. Someone really needs to remind them that hotels have cameras.
Maybe I’m just overly sensitive to the attitudes of tourists because I’ve spent pretty much my whole life living in a tourist town. I’ve seen the way they swoop in making demands and then leaving a wake of garbage and doggy poop bags for someone else to clean up. I once saw a woman watch her dog do his business on a sidewalk and then simply walk away. When I asked her if she was going to pick up after her pet she sneered, “No. I don’t pick up after coyotes either.” I wanted to point out the false logic here, but anyone who compares their dog to a wild animal isn’t going to be reasoned with. Where I live, full-time residents can’t even find a parking spot in the grocery store for the Wisconsin, New York, Quebec, and Michigan license plates. Don’t get me started on trying to get into the post office for mail. Our pretty, picturesque town is not the Magic Kingdom, though tourists frequently stop in the middle of the street to take pictures and then give you the finger if you honk. To be fair, some responsibility must be taken on the part of those who lure the tourist dollars. Like Doctor Frankensteins, they cater to every whim of the consumer creating little monsters who learn that some people will put up with anything for a buck. I speak from experience because I had a great-grandmother who was notorious. A keen entrepreneur, she would sink to any depth for a dollar. Her shameless exploits included using me to coax passersby into her restaurant. Propped up beside the front door in ponytails I was directed to repeat, “Fresh pie. Home-made pie,” for ten minutes any time sales were slow. At seven, it would prove to be my first acting job and I don’t mind adding, I was pretty good at it. My great-grandmother’s establishment was a plain, dated eatery with a velvet painting of ‘Dogs Playing Poker’ over the cash register. At seven, I thought it was a funny, tacky piece of art. My great-grandmother, treasured it. That’s the kind of place she ran. If someone didn’t like my great-grandmother’s pie and complained, she’d shrug her shoulders give them their bill and point them towards the door. “Good riddance!” she’d say, then turn to me, “Now go outside and see if you can drum up some more customers.”
Tourists everywhere seem to have become the worst possible versions of themselves. In Paris last year at the Louvre I noticed a large percentage gawking at their cell phones, then standing in front of the Venice de Milo, taking a selfie (as though they were the art on display) then checking out the photo as they left the gallery …never once having actually looked at the art. In a restaurant, I heard some English- speaking visitors putting down the French as though the waiters couldn’t understand what they were saying when they most certainly could. Tourists push, demand, jostle, argue, and litter. What they don’t do is tip.
When my husband and I go away on our vacations, we try to find a remote cottage hidden in the middle of nowhere. Our main objective is to get away from tourists. Recently, however, we did take a trip to Nantucket with our dog. In our defense, it was October. It seemed reasonable to assume that the island would be relatively void of tourists and we were looking for a place where we could slow down a little. Our quaint Inn was run by several lovely Caribbean women who set out breakfast, made cookies, cleaned rooms, and kept things afloat. We noticed, pretty early on, how rude our fellow passengers were. “I can’t believe there’s nothing warm to eat for breakfast.” I overheard an obese man complain to his wife loudly enough for us all to hear. It was a sort of proclamation like he was speaking for all of us. At another table, two young women sat eating muffins in bare feet complaining about the coffee. For three days they managed to take over the entire Inn making every room their own. In the sitting room, they would spread out on all the furniture putting their dirty feet in contact with every possible surface. All I could think about was how much better behaved our chihuahua was.
Of course, all hotels are not five-star. I was recently in a city holding auditions for a show and put into a modest room where the bedding was left on the floor and a blood-stained pillow was still propped up against the headboard. I have no idea what happened there before I arrived, and it wasn’t something I wanted to contemplate. I didn’t ask for an upgrade, though, I simply asked to be moved. Most rational human beings understand that stating the obvious will bring the required results without having to resort to yelling or blackmail.
In the end, tourists are one of those, “Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t live without ‘em,” situations. They boost the economy and we depend on their dollars for sustainability. But it wouldn’t hurt to remind them every now and then to stop, look up from the phone, take in the moment, be present and acknowledge the fact that they are still a guest in someone else’s home. You’ll probably get the finger for it, but it’s worth a try.