I did not book the hotel room. If I had, it would not have been such a nice hotel.
This is partly because I’m really bad at doing nice things for myself. I tend to put off enjoyable experiences, either because I want to make sure the moment’s right and that I have the energy for it, or because I don’t feel I deserve it. (This might be why it took me more than three years to listen to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion.) Anna has pointed out that most of the times I do treat myself, it’s to something that will make me more productive. It’s something I believe I need, rather than what I want. I don’t need a fancy hotel, I just need a bedbug-free bed or couch that can fit all five feet of me. Practicality is my middle name. (It’s just spelled and pronounced “Elizabeth.”)
It’s also how I was raised: namely, lower-middle-class with four siblings, and thus without much to spend on vacations. Once a year we might have stayed in a two-star motel somewhere in Northern or Central California, but mostly we just went camping. Until 20th Century Fox sent us to London, Madrid, and Tokyo to promote Miracle on 34th Street, my family had never left North America, and my sister and I had never left the country (the rest of us apparently had a very, very short driving excursion on the other side of the Mexican border before I was born.) We were equally grateful and bemused when we found ourselves in a gorgeous Mayfair hotel with an intricate carved fruit sculpture waiting for us. It was so pretty, were we even allowed to eat it?
Twenty-four years later, I found myself in another fancy hotel in London, where I would be representing a mental health organization, trying to work out a misunderstanding. My publicist Heidi and I stood at the reception desk for twenty minutes with a front desk worker who seemed new at her job. After a lot of back-and-forth, she asked for my card.
“This is for incidentals, right?” I said, as I handed it over. I’d been charged before for rooms I didn’t book, and I didn’t want that to happen again, especially not in a place I didn’t book and probably couldn’t afford. Did I even have enough on this card to be able to cover it, I wondered?
“It is for incidentals,” she said. “But I also need a card on file to pay for your room.”
“But we didn’t book the rooms,” I said.
She didn’t seem to understand. “Yes, but I still need a card to cover the room, please.”
“But we’re not the ones paying for the rooms.”
“But you need to pay for the room,” she said.
It took us another five minutes of back-and-forth to try to explain it to her. I know hotel employees have a notoriously difficult job, and I have a lot of respect for them. But an organization booking a room for someone isn’t that unusual. She frowned into her computer until we finished talking. Then, she looked up, and for the first time, she took a good look at my face. It’s true that I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and I was wearing a backpack, but I was not anticipating what she said next.
“Oh, I see,” she said, as if she finally understood, and her voice changed. It was higher, and dripping with condescension. “Your mom booked the room for you.”
Oh my god. She thought I was a teenager, and not just any teenager, a trust fund teenager whose mom booked her fancy international hotel rooms. An irresponsible, adolescent Ugly American. I looked at Heidi, and she was as bemused as I was. We do not look like sisters, let alone underage ones. But what could we do? She’d finally understood, sort of. We took it as a compliment, took the room keys and took the lift upstairs to our rooms.
It all went well, until five days later when I got an email telling me my card was declined. It turns out I didn’t have the money on that card to cover it, and I had the organization contact the hotel to sort it out.
But really, what did she expect from an irresponsible American teenager?
Stuff I Did This Week: It was the holidays, so not a lot, unless you count playing with this little guy.
His name is Basil!
Fake BBC Show of the Week: Wistful Sighing Over Picturesque Views of the Scottish Highlands