19 April 2009

Curing the luxury sickness

I just came across this short piece by Tanya Gold reprinted in the Guardian Weekly's My Two Cents column - "How I was cured of a taste for luxury".

I will never stay in a luxury hotel again. It's been crawling up on me, this disgust with the world of self-flushing toilets, floors so shiny you can squeeze your spots in them, and tall, thin people wearing Ralph Lauren. (The clothes, not the person).

I am middle-class, and I was born in suburbia, so it was natural that I would embrace the deluxe lifestyle, as soon as I got credit. It's the inadequacy. I was too fat for fashion, so I used to wear Claridge's instead. I used to sit in the bar, sipping a Diet Coke, wondering if I would ever make it into Tatler. But so slowly that nausea set in.

Expensive hotels are designed for rich people to feel loved. You pay, and they wrap you in a bathrobe that says, "You are not a psychopath, and we care about you." But actually, if you look deeper, if you open your eyes from your soporific, luxurious slumber, you will realise that the people who are waiting on you hate your guts. With good reason.

The staff of these hotels are usually educated people from poor countries who spend all day waiting on people who are much stupider - and nastier - than them. As a result, they - entirely naturally - become bitter and are turned into status police. Their job is to assess if you belong there or not.

Aged 25, I sat down to dinner in a five-star hotel on Park Lane. The bread waiter came over. That was his title. Bread waiter. I asked for two rolls but he only threw one down. Then he went to the other side of the room, and stared at me, and when I had finished the roll, he came and threw another one in my face. This was hate with rolls. This was annihilation. Then the wine waiter came. "Did you enjoy your bread, madam?" he asked. They had actually discussed it.

This hate has followed me around the luxury hotels of Europe. In Paris, I asked for a skirt to be ironed. (The hotel was too posh to have ironing boards in cupboards. I had no choice. I was only following orders.) The maid came to return it. I answered the door in my bathrobe. She guessed I was in flagrante delicto - I looked purple and slightly angry - and she said, "Enjoy yourself, madam." She didn't mean it. She meant, "Kill yourself, madam." And then I realised. These people hate us. It was not a luxury hotel in Paris. It was more like North Korea. My stupid lover was spending €700 a night so we could stay in North Korea and be hated by maids with ironing boards.

Claridge's actually hires people to stand at the entrance and stare at you. It is a bit like the Mexican border. Go and out stare at them, and call it sport. If your clothes are cheap, and your expression is desperate, they are emboldened and they snarl. "Don't come in here," their eyes speak. "Get out, loser. We can smell that you are from Wimbledon. You stink of cheap Chinese takeaway and despair." If you are wearing Ralph Lauren and tax evade for fun, however, they bow until their noses touch the floor.

I just came back from a week in Dubai. Dubai is an enormous, glossy, heartless reinterpretation of Little Chef and it broke me. I stayed in a palace that felt like a live-action copy of Elle magazine. The man who carried my bags had a law degree. The beautiful waitresses had changed their given names to stripper names - Candy, Sandy, Mandy - because they were pronouncable by rich idiots. When two Filipino men came to clean my bath, I was ashamed. When they bowed I wanted to slap myself in the face.

And I remembered that the happiest I have been on holidays in recent years is when I stayed in a five-quid-a-night hostel in Jerusalem with a big hole in the wall covered by a rug. Because I actually went out and I saw Jerusalem. When you stay in a luxury hotel, the luxury is the destination. You are essentially visiting a bathroom. You don't see anything except the luxury. And the luxury is the same wherever you go. In this, five-star hotels are like McDonald's - everywhere the product is identical.

People don't go to deluxe hotels because they want to see the world. They go to them because they don't want to see the world. All they see are the smiling faces of their slaves and things that sort of resemble the pictures they drooled over in It's All Yours magazine. And they get a self-flushing toilet. (You don't even have to look at your own waste. You don't even have to look at your own soul.) Luxury holidays are not only morally indefensible and psychologically sick, they are boring. It isn't travel. It's narcissism with towels - and I think I have finally outgrown it.

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