Friday, February 09, 2007

A Tale of Two Towels!!

Last week I had traveled to Delhi where I was put up at a pretty comfortable hotel that charge up-market rates for pretty much everything. Now I have this habit of carrying my own towels even though I am aware that most hotels these days provide their own bath linen. Unfortunately during this trip, just when I was about to check out of the hotel, I realized that my towels were nowhere to be seen – the room cleaners had packed my towels off to laundry. I dialed ‘7’ for room service and I could hear the phone ringing …

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

About 4 years back, few of my friends and I drove down to Edinburgh for what was meant to be a week long Scottish sightseeing – with planned halts at various student hostels and B&B type of lodgings. The 12+ hour drive from London to Edinburgh was uneventful except for the occasional stop to stuff ourselves and the car’s petrol tank. It was late in the night when we eventually reached Edinburgh and the only thing on our mind was to catch up on sleep after driving through notorious Scottish winter on a highway that was jammed with pre-Christmas travelers. While most animals head south for winter, we were headed closer to the poles.

On the 3rd day (rather midnight) we landed at Ben Nevis and we checked ourselves into what seemed an innocuous student hostel tucked in the mountains. Small but cozy rooms, automatic fireplace, small coffee maker and most importantly clean toilets and linen. My habit of using my own towels pre-dates this episode and after initial use I had let them dry on the small chair. Next day morning my towels were missing! Not the one to let go of trivial issues, I went to the front desk and lodged my displeasure.

Now how am I to know that the Scots take a lot of pride in their self respect and the little student hostels that they run? I am an Indian and I only know how the Indian hotel managers would behave in such a situation. The front desk immediately got working on my complaint and informed the situation to the management, who in turn summoned the entire cleaning crew. Upon thorough enquiry, calls were made to the cleaning company that washes the towels. What made me panic was when one of the management persons got on the phone and started explaining the situation to the local police. I realized that in a few moments they might even call the Scotland Yard and set out a dragnet over the whole of Scotland looking for my towels.

What was more embarrassing was when my friends came down and started to enquire me about the situation; this made the management squirm more in agony because now ‘everybody’ knew that the hotel had taken my towels. Probably first time in history of Scotland that a hotel had taken its residents towels!! More calls were made, more apologies were offered – each stronger than the previous one. Yet the towels were never to be found. Two weeks later, when I was back in London, busy with my investment banking calculations, I got a call from the manager of the hotel who informed me that my towels had been found and had been dispatched by courier. A half a dozen awkward thank-you’s from my side and four times as many apologies from his side – the incident came to an end.

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“Hello Room Service…”
“Hi… this is from Room 157 and…”
“One minute saar…” he cups the mouth piece and starts talking in Hindi with someone at his bay. After what seemed more like 5 minutes he quips:
“Haan boliye saab…”
“I am missing my towels” I said.
“No problem Sir, I will send you some more” he gleefully replies.
“No no, that is not what I meant. I mean, my own towels are missing”
“Why use own towels sir? We give good quality towels!” was his instant rebuke.
“Look that doesn’t matter. Can you ask your staff if they have taken away my towels for wash?”

Again he cups the phone and starts off in Hindi to some character. I can hear peals of laughter at their end – and I can only wonder if they are laughing at this situation.

“We will search Sir. If we find we will return them. Anything else I can do sir?”
All I could do was let out a loud sigh and say “no thanks”.

Needless to say I never heard about my towels from them nor do I anticipate it in future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why why why take your own towels to the hotels and confuse them! :P (Especially if they your favorite ones!)
But on a serious note, I agree with the fact that we don't take these kind of things very seriously compared to many foreign countries. However, don't you think the size of the hotel might also have a lot to do with finding your towels? I feel because the B&B you stayed in Scotland was pretty small compared to the hotel you stayed in Delhi, it was lot more easier for them to find it. Don't get me wrong. I applaud their promptness and serivce oriented mentality. We do lack it to an extent. But my question is, do you think if it was a smaller hotel you stayed in (where things would be managed lot more easily), there would have been a hope in getting back your towels? At least I would like to think and hope so! :)

9:19 AM  
Blogger Teshu said...

Hello hello :P you never know if the towels in the hotels have been washed or not. Appearance of cleanliness never equals reality :P

To a fair extent you are right - its more difficult to trace a small thing like towels in larger hotels than B&B's. But look at it conversely - can we argue that 5 star hotels actually don't value personal belongings of its patrons as much as the B&B's do?

I think it finally boils down to what you state in the beginning - we, in India, don't take things as seriously as the hospitality industry should. It's the apathetic 'chalta hai' attitude that is the real culprit.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous A Study Hive said...

Well, they don't clean the sheets and mattress either! (just helping you to pack better from next time) :P

You are right-It could mean that 5 star hotels don't value personal belongings as much. It could also mean how we take people and incidents for granted in India. Population probably plays a huge role in how we treat each other.

Hospitality industry has started to improve and flourish only now in India.. isn't it? I somehow feel hospitality industry in India will do much better in a few years when compared with many western countries! We, Indians, inherently possess the nature of serving and caring for others compared to many of the other countires. Don't we? :-)

9:30 AM  
Blogger Teshu said...

Oh yeah they don't clean do they :P Who knows if the utensils are clean and if the cook has taken shower or not :P

You know, about the hospitality industry in India, you are right that we are inherently more capable of serving and caring for others. It's imbibed in our culture. But at the hotels I somehow get the feeling, when they are serving people in lieu for money, the true essence of Indian hospitality is missing :) I mean its not the same kind of smile and comfort that you would get when you visit an Indian home.

7:20 PM  

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