On the cards and off the rails
THE INCIDENTAL TOURIST
THE hotel chain of your choice wants you to know that it is a lot like you. It may be a mass of elevator buttons and brass-plated trolleys but it is also a bricks- and- mortar being with a conscience.
The bathroom is where your hotel’s personality really beams. Cheerful cardboard pop-ups bloom next to the sink (‘‘ Did you forget your tooth- brush?’’), a truly clean toilet shows off its prestigious sanitised strip, and a placard near the towels cordially invites you to step up and save the planet.
Save the planet? Who, me? All I have to do is choose how to do it. Asking for new towels means wasting power and detergent. Reusing my damp one saves all that. I am honoured to help. And while the cards don’t say this, I am glad to do my part to cut the hotel’s operating costs, reduce its laundry room workforce and improve shareholder value.
I reuse my smelly towels for days but while the terry-cloth stays on the rails, I snag the towel cards to take home. I’ve amassed a world-class collection. You might think they’re all just laminated lectures printed in bulk. But each is dif- ferent and distinctive — just like hotels aspire to be:
1. Instructive towel cards: A good card doesn’t j ust ask questions but offers helpful hygiene lessons. From a Norway-based cruise line: ‘‘How to wash your hands: a) wet hands with warm water; b) apply a generous amount of soap; c) rub hands together for 20 seconds; d) rinse hands; e) dry hands with towel.’’
2. Chic towel cards: These come on quality paper in tasteful shades and may be cut in a creative way to swing on a hook or rail. From a typical posh hotel: ‘‘As part of our commitment to a clean environment, we offer you the choice of reusing your towels. If we can be of any further assistance, please contact our Style Department.’’
3. Bossy towel cards: Since they’ve got your attention, why not badger you about other ways to become a caring global citizen. From a four-panel card displayed at a budget chain: ‘‘Report noisy, leaky taps and toilets; fill sink basin to shave; and take short showers.’’
4. Euphemistic towel cards: This approach is common at grand old piles or inns. Extravagant phrasing tarts up the issue to the point it appears to have little to do with laundry. From a downtown hotel in Melbourne: ‘‘Welcome to the hotel’s green programming. In the interests of conservation, you may choose to retain any of the offered towelling by simply hanging the items following your use. Thank you for your participation in initiatives that better serve the environment.’’
5. Paranoid towel cards: Along with the usual warnings about the environment, this type raises new and often weird worries. From Quebec: ‘‘In order to keep our costs at a minimum, we exercise a firm control of our inventory. If you have any reason to believe that you don’t have the right number of towels, please advise us immediately.’’
6. Ultra-minimalist towel cards: In boutique hotels, a creased towel card spoils the effect of chrome- andhalogen decor. So the notice will be on a translucent sticker with wording as minimal as the hotel. From a four-star in Lisbon: ‘‘Towels on the floor mean change them.’’ Then I spot another tiny sign by the sink. I get my glasses. Almost sheepishly, it requests: ‘‘Please don’t leave taps on unnecessarily.’’