On Needing Your Bed Opened

Once upon a time I was staying at my first five-star hotel and wondering why the maid was obliged to make a second visit to my room in order to “open the bed”, as they called it, or turn it down as Brits would say. Out of sheer curiosity I enquired at the front desk and was told that, if the maid failed to do so, some guests would complain bitterly. Hello, I thought; are they then unable to climb into bed? Did they never learn to turn down the bedclothes themselves? Was this a form of mummy-dependency afflicting the entire plutocracy – who knew?

I have noticed in Hiltons, too, that some guests do not seem able to pour their own coffee and so cannot be given a whole pot on their breakfast table; a waitress has to pour each cup, or else they get caffeine abstinence. I truly enjoy the Hilton’s breakfasts, but I manage to pour my own coffee as well as open my own bed. So sue me!

Even in swish hotels in the West, one may exchange “Good mornings” with maids one passes in the corridors. At the Gran Via in Kyōto, however, the maids back against the wall and do an emperor-quality bow, bending at 90 degrees. I found that disturbing; and, just as I had wondered what manner of entity could not open his own bed or pour his own coffee, I wondered what manner of entity truly required such obsequiousness in order to feel good.

I never had anything to do with geishas, being not only unable to speak the language or appreciate the art-forms, but also quite unable to sit long enough cross-legged. But they tell me that one of the things a client expects of a geisha is for her to light his cigarette for him. Now, I do not smoke, but if I did, I should be able to light my own damn cigarettes thank you very much. There must be something wrong with me. Although I truly enjoy some aspects of luxury hotels, I seem not to have the gene for wanting people to bow and scrape to me, or run around doing these small tasks like opening beds, pouring coffee or (if I smoked) lighting cigarettes. Ordinary courtesy is all I want, and what I endeavour to give in return; which means that I am probably ignorant of the right way to treat lackeys. Why, they would probably be insulted by my treating them as fellow-humans doing their jobs.

I was brought up in an age of opening doors for ladies. Now, I still do, but only in the sense of not letting a door that I am passing slam in their face – but then, I don’t let doors slam in the face of men either. Similarly, I expect people not to slam doors in my own face. But were someone to scurry ahead to perform the act of opening the door, as being beneath my own dignity, I suspect I would feel uncomfortable and even helpless. So I do understand why a later generation of women got snarly at the apparent assumption that they could not do anything for themselves. I just wish they understood the difference between scurrying ahead and not letting it slam behind you, that’s all.

(Fiddle date-stamp to June 1, 2012)

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