This summer I spent a week in a budget hotel. It was part of a chain which provides a no-frills service, equipping the rooms with just the basics that everyone would need for their stay. Breakfast wasn’t included. There was no room service, no trouser press, no armchair.
There was also no phone, and no complimentary shampoo or shower gel.
There was, however, a flat-screen TV, with a wide range of digital channels available. A TV, but no shampoo. We apparently live in a culture which thinks the average person coming on holiday can live without cleanliness, but not without a TV. And this hotel was two minutes’ walk from the beach in one of England’s most popular holiday resorts.
Now fair enough, some people would be there because they are attending a conference, not because they’ve chosen to take a holiday by the sea. Some will be parents of young children who need a way to pass the time once the kids are in bed, and as a friend pointed out when I was ranting about it, she’d rather have to take a bottle of shampoo on holiday than a TV.
That doesn’t change my point, though, that we live in a culture where a TV is considered an essential.
It’s not so long ago that an en-suite bathroom was considered a luxury in a hotel room, but that is now mostly considered a necessity – the few Bed and Breakfast cottages which still have shared bathrooms get away with it because it is part of the quaintness of staying in an old-fashioned house, but they are a rarity.
Bill Bryson, in Notes from a Small Island, writes of his first visit to England in the 1970s. He stayed in a guest house in Dover in which not only was there no TV and no en-suite bathroom, there was no ‘hospitality tray’, his use of the electric fire in his room was strictly limited, and he was expected to vacate the hotel for a significant portion of the day.
Culture has moved on a lot in the world of hospitality – the owners of hotels and guest houses are generally far more hospitable than Bryson’s first landlady, and many give lavish extras to go far beyond the basic needs, which is all to the good.
It is fascinating, nonetheless, to read the cultural values exhibited in a budget hotel room. Forty years ago people were expected to be able to share a bathroom and a TV, and to be able to entertain themselves in other ways if the programme they wanted wasn’t on. Now we expect to have everything our own way at all times, and to have entertainment on tap, and we’re willing to forgo toiletries before we’ll surrender the far more expensive television service.
What have you encountered this summer that gives an unexpected insight into our culture? Who are we, and what are our expectations of the way the world should be?