TRIAL BY GUEST
An Accurate Accounting of the Various Reasons
Why I Should Be Hung
HENRY EDWARD FOOL
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.