Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.
Where we are: Still in London, working hard to balance the rapidly-changing weather with our desire to avoid indoor spaces.
A hand on my butt
While I’m on my remembering-weird-hotel-experiences streak, I should point out that it’s not just the actual buildings that are memorable; sometimes the staff turn an otherwise ordinary stay into an event to remember.
What got me thinking about the people we’ve met in hotels was the fantastic proprietor of our B&B in Shetland. She was half of what we loved about the island (and we loved Shetland a LOT). She knows everything about the islands, and will happily tell you all about the people, the history, the birds, or whatever you’re interested in. She’s retired from the Coast Guard, and in her spare time decorates fancy cakes for weddings & birthdays, as well as training Coast Guard scuba divers.
And if you ask nicely, she’ll give you a wee dram of Scotch to go with your breakfast porridge. Like I said, we adored her.
Anyway. One morning, for reasons that I can’t remember (must’ve been the porridge—er, the Scotch), I started reminiscing about a particular hotel we stayed in while we were in Vietnam. We were there for a month, and all the female members of the staff felt compelled to pat me on the rear end. It happened a lot.
It was a little surprising at first, but then it happened in the market, as well, and I decided it was just some kind of greeting between women that I was unfamiliar with. I didn’t respond in kind, because—you know, in hindsight, I have no idea why I didn’t. Maybe because I just have no interest in patting anyone on the butt? Maybe because life was happening all around me and I was just trying to stay vertical in the firehose of sensory experience that is Vietnam? I dunno. Maybe I’m just not very friendly.
But! Lynne, our delightful Shetland host, had a potential explanation. She speculated (based on her own experiences in that part of the world) that the roundness of my butt was intriguing to women whose butts are not so round.
Okay, I can’t actually speak to the validity of that theory, except to say that my butt is definitely round. But as theories go, it’s entertaining enough that I think we’ll keep it.
In South Korea, we had a much more awkward moment. More awkward than the front desk clerk patting me on the butt? Well, actually, yes.
During our time in Seoul, we spent a solid two and a half months in one hotel. We had a pretty reliable routine, and the housekeepers quickly figured out what time we generally left the room, and we almost never crossed paths with them. One day, though, we headed out, and realized we’d forgotten something, so we went back. The door was open, and the housekeeper had started working, then gone back to the next room to finish something.
When she saw us, she was clearly flustered and distressed that we’d come in before she finished. She backed away, bowing deeply, over and over again. I felt so bad; I kept saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” but I’m not sure she understood. I wanted to hug her (I didn’t want to pat her on the butt, though).
Our most awkward hotel staff moment, though, and one I’ll never forget, was in India.
One of the Airbnbs that we stayed in was a large family home, several rooms of which had been converted to lovely en-suite rooms. It was a great experience—we got to see what daily life was like in an upper middle class Indian home. The most noticeable thing was the staff—there were maybe ten staff people living on the property, taking care of the three family members who still lived there.
Bala, who did all the cooking and laundry, was a particular presence—she made us some truly delicious breakfasts, and did all of our washing by hand. My mother-in-law was with us, and she came down with a terrible cold; Bala took special care of her. She was a sweetheart, even if we had no language in common.
We gave her a tip when we left—I don’t remember how much, exactly. Maybe thirty dollars?
She got down on her hands and knees and kissed my feet.
I don’t have any illusion that the people I interact with in hotels will remember me. They have tourists streaming in and out every day (at least, they did pre-Covid). But I hope that I can be open to allowing them to touch me. Without the people, a hotel is just another building.
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