I’m a desk clerk in a small privately-owned hotel, and that’s an awkward situation for me because,
fundamentally I’m an inward, and by that I mean socially inept, individual. Dealing with strangers
on a daily basis is not just difficult for me—demanding an exuberance for my fellow man which I
simply do not posses—it is slightly painful at times, at times embarrassing. And, because I have a
very low tolerance for either idiocy or pretence, sometimes it becomes almost unbearable.
It’s natural, I think, at this point for you to ask how I managed to get into this situation. I’ve gnawed
on that so many times that I’ve shattered teeth in the process, but that will be explained in time.
The mystery is how I remain. Why FATE should waste so much effort keeping me in this utterly
hopeless, painful and senseless situation is beyond me. Clearly the gods have taken a real
disliking to Henry Edward Fool.
May I say quickly here that Will Rogers was an idiot. He’s the one who famously declared, “I never
met a man I didn’t like.”
It would be impossible for me to count all the people I’ve met with whom I want nothing to do
whatsoever. At age 62 if I could choose the people I have contact with, first would be my delightful
wife, and after that the list would be very short indeed. Yet, I find myself surrounded every minute
of every day with strangers. To complicate things, my defenses are such that many of these
strangers, guests at this hotel, believe that I am something which I am not; that I am cold or
arrogant, or that I am indifferent to their needs, that I don’t like people in general, or, worst of all
perhaps, that I am French. None of that is true.
At any rate, true or not, our guests are not all immediately enthralled with me—some seem to
develop an almost immediate distaste for me—and because of that I live under constant
reproach. When a guest is dissatisfied, my name is very often attached to their complaint. This
may be mainly because in most cases I’m the one who responds to their call. Whatever the cause
of it, I believe their distaste for me is largely a psychological matter, and largely their own. Until
you’ve read more, if you can, please just accept this as fact: many people checking into a hotel
have needs far above and beyond a nice, clean, comfortable and safe place to sleep. I’ve had
years of experience in this business and I know what I’m talking about. Many people checking into
a hotel have extraneous needs, and, whenever those needs aren’t met, it’s the staff’s fault.
They have a point of course when one of those needs is for the constant reassurance that they
are superior beings and it becomes our job to supply that assurance by professing our own
inferiority through both word and gesture, whenever we find ourselves in their presence. I have to
admit that I either can not or will not make any effort to fulfill this need in any guest, and the more
glorious they are, the less I am willing to contribute to the illusion. You can probably see already
how that might lead to trouble.
What’s unfair about that arrangement (and I speak only for myself here, not for the hundreds of
thousand of hotel and restaurant employees throughout the world who know exactly what I am
talking about) is that I am only allowed to express my feelings about such guests through a
somewhat brittle courtesy; guests however may express their displeasure with me through long
scathing, rambling diatribes, riddled with childish vindictiveness and incised with great force into
stacks of cheap, pastel-colored, personalized stationary, with winged hearts in the corners, and
mail all of that still-steaming vitriol, in matching envelopes, directly to my boss. It is amazing how
many see that option and seize upon it. This book is, in part, my defense to some of the
accusations found in such letters.
It would only disrupt the flow of things for me to say here that many people, many guests, actually
enjoy doing business with me, and that some guests have, over the years, become good friends.
So I won’t do that. Nor, will I slow things down by stopping here to say that my wife, who knows me
best, thinks of me as a thoughtful, kind and somewhat goofy guy who is generally good-natured
and not too rarely in a good mood. (I wanted to be absolutely sure of that statement, and, after
checking with her, I feel comfortable letting it stand.)
Before you pass judgment on the matter however, let me first ask you something and then, let me
tell you something.
Here’s the question I’d like to ask:
Are you in a position where every waking moment of every day, wherever you go and whatever
you may be doing, you are likely to bump into complete strangers who expect you to treat them
as if there could be no greater joy on earth than for you to run into them at that very moment?
That’s the question.
I ask you this because that’s my situation.
Now, the thing I’d like to tell you is this: The average length of ownership of a bed and breakfast
is 5 years, 2 months.
I have no doubt that my readership will grasp the implication of that statistic immediately, but, in
case this book has fallen into other hands, let me explain.
That means that people who consider themselves gregarious; who go about every day chirping
joyously about how much they just love people; who, for as long as they can remember have
hoped and prayed and yearned and planned and saved and pleaded in all earnestness with
pure, aching, innocent hearts for the chance to—if God grants wishes—find themselves in the
hospitality business (breathe here) after a few years of it, want nothing more sincerely than to
GET OUT of the hospitality business.
People who make their living selling these places rarely tout that fact in their chirpy little B&B
seminars however. They never tell you that it will take you nearly as long to off-load one of these
nightmares as it takes you to discover that dealing with guests every goddamned minute of every
miserable day of your rapidly ebbing life is not the dream you had once supposed it would be.
That almost half of those 5 years and 2 months will be spent, first casually but ultimately
desperately, seeking someone—anyone—dumb enough to take the damned place off your
hands, is a carefully guarded, unspoken truth.
With my slightly misanthropic tendencies, my general disregard for authority of any sort, my
contrary nature, my apparent arrogance—which shields a genuine fundamental shyness—and
my driving desire just to be left alone (with my wife, a cello, a dog, a cat, a few books) for long,
prolonged, and extended periods, the “hospitality industry” is the very worst possible business for
me to find myself in. There is no doubt about that.
It would be difficult to find any man less suited to the task of welcoming people warmly.
My father once joked with me saying that he is always glad to see everybody; some people he’s
glad to see arrive and others he’s glad to see leave. It’s the old classic joke. In response I told
him, “You know, Dad, I’d be more than glad never to see anyone, ever.” And that was not a joke.
Nonetheless, in my trial by guest, I hope to ultimately be found innocent. The working theory is
that God will intervene and produce a miracle to save the truly innocent from such a trial—and I
still have my hopes—but no such miracle has yet occurred. The theory is that the innocent will
remain untouched, or lacking that, unscarred by their ordeal, but that doesn’t apply any more.
But, who other than the innocent would choose to subject themselves to such a trial? Only a fool.
I rest my case.
HOW I GOT INTO THIS AWKWARD POSITION
One afternoon, one of this hotel’s best desk clerks (young, beautiful, charming, chirpy, and
exceedingly French) was observed in the appalling, completely unacceptable act of insisting that
a guest admit to the truth. I forget the details, or maybe I never knew the details, it hardly
matters, but the scene was interesting because in this business the guest may not always be
right, but we, the staff, are always wrong. Always. Whenever one of these matters goes to trial
before the owner, things like facts, truth, and reality are never allowed to stand in the way of a
swiftly delivered guilty verdict. We are all, each and every one of us, guilty from the moment we
When I arrived at the office, there was already a noticeable chill in the atmosphere. The opening
shot had been fired, and the smoke still hung in the air. The desk clerk, Mariette, was seated
behind the desk and the guest was very properly seated, ramrod straight, across from her; they
were glaring at each other in silence. The guest held her purse clenched in her lap as if Mariette’
s next move might be to quickly lean over the desktop and snatch it. The deafening silence in
that room was soon to change.
Somewhere in there, during the ice cold, silent check-out process, the guest felt compelled to
tell Mariette, apparently yet again, that she had been mislead by something which Mariette had
said. In response, Mariette denied having ever said it. The guest, assuming that Mariette was
restrained by her position as mindless and spineless servant to the hotel, demanded that
Mariette confess to having said this thing, whatever it might have been. Mariette not only
refused to admit it, she went so far as to correct the guest.
“I never told you that, Madame,” she said flatly.
The tone of that statement got my attention.
At this point the guest’s beady little eyes began to narrow as she sensed something less than
the anticipated boot-licking subservience which one might normally expect from a lowly desk
clerk, and things soon escalated. The guest stood up abruptly, saying, “You told me…” Mariette
stood up on her side of the desk just as quickly and cut her off by saying, “That is not true,
Madame, and you know it is not true.”
The guest then fled the office while shouting over her shoulder, “You said it. Admit it.”
Mariette followed her out into the hallway shouting, “That is not true, Madame.”
“Admit it,” screeched the guest without looking back.
“No, you are wrong, Madame. I never told you that.”
The guest stopped with her hand on the front door, wheeled and shouted, “You said…”, but
seeing Mariette in close pursuit, escaped outside without finishing the thought.
Mariette, while dashing down the hallway, was shouting, “That is not true, Madame. You are
wrong Madame.” She actually followed the guest outside onto the sidewalk and was heard
shouting out there, “That is not true, Madame!” as the guest, successfully routed, scampered
The owner had long since emerged from his office to find out what all the shouting was about,
and we stood there in the hallway together awaiting Mariette’s return from her crusade. I had a
barely restrained grin on my big stupid face. The owner, I noted, did not. What I saw as an act of
heroism, he saw only as the willful breaking of convention.
When Mariette returned she went stomping into our office with the owner following her. He was
enraged and had a lot of things to say to her in cold, subdued tones. She had my complete
approval however; I was delighted, grinning, practically giggling with delight. In my mind, she was
the one true champion of a very good and too-long neglected cause. Like Mariette, I don’t
always thoroughly enjoy guests treating us as though they might have been royalty in some
previous life and now recognize us in this one as the foul ingrate peasant who once sullenly
tended their generously overflowing fields. Even less do I enjoy it when they think nothing has
changed from that life to this.
So, I was delighted to see someone other than myself reject the universally accepted concept
that humiliation of the staff is simply part of any good hotel experience. Fresh sheets, clean
towels, full breakfast, talk down to the maid; insult the desk clerk on your way out the door…an
excellent stay…I’d recommend this place to anyone. But, in this case, battle lines had been
drawn, and I think we may have won that little skirmish. The enemy had certainly been driven
from the field of battle.
The owner called Mariette into his office, and shortly (by French standards) she returned to the
front office to pick up her purse, slam a few drawers around, grab her coat, and make her way,
head nicely tilted upward, out the door, never to be seen or heard from again. As Mariette was
gathering her things, I told her, “I don’t know what that was about, I don’t even know if you were
right, but I certainly applaud your spirit.” I smiled.
Mariette looked at me in that way the French look at anyone who doesn’t speak French and
expelled a puff of air, dismissing me entirely. She didn’t want and certainly didn’t need any
American’s approval. Just as a note: I’m sure Mariette would want me to make it clear right here
that she was not fired from the hotel, she quit. She quit with the kind of drama that we all dream
of bringing to our quitting. Her departure was glorious. She looked great.
Of course, though the guest may not have been right, Mariette was clearly very wrong, and, as
said, guilty from the day she was hired. So, she had to go. But, she’d stood up against the
ridiculous tyranny that some guests feel they have the right to impose upon the hotel staff, and
In my view Mariette was driven out by her own heroism.
Mariette, wherever you are today, I salute you.
So, that’s the how and the why of me moving suddenly from night guy to the front office at the
hotel; there was no way on such short notice the owners could have avoided it.
My elevation would be the first time in many many many years any front desk clerk at the hotel
didn’t speak French, and I would be the first American to ever hold that esteemed position. (And
now, drawing from the owners’ experience with me, it is very likely that I will be the last.) So, my
bounce up the ladder meant that we needed a new night guy, and simple as the task might
appear, it was not easy to find someone. Not everyone is cut out to be night guy at a small,
privately owned hotel. I was. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that I was suited perfectly for
And, not that it matters but, I was happy as a night guy.
Excerpted from "Trial by Guest: An Accurate Accounting of the Various Reasons Why I Should Be Hung" by Henry Edward Fool. Copyright © 2010 by Henry Edward Fool. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.