I have a thing about tips. I believe in them. Usually I leave at least 20% as a tip, more if the service is exceptional or if it's a holiday. I think it all goes back to the time in high school when I interviewed for a job at Friendly's, which was allowed to pay less than minimum wage because of the tips. Or a childhood memory of a diner waitress in her fifties balancing a half-dozen plates without spilling even a crumb. Jobs that relied on tips always seemed to me to be the crappiest jobs in the world, and as an adult, I've always felt a responsibility to do my part to make them not quite so crappy.
One area where I always tip generously is hotel housekeeping. It's not that cleaning up after me is such a chore. For some reason, I'm a better housekeeper on the road than I am at home. It's just that the monotony of changing beds and cleaning toilets and tubs after strangers, even on holidays, seems like a particularly depressing way to spend one's work life. For all that I'm working ridiculous hours again on a project with a timeline that I'll be lucky to meet, the work I do is interesting, varied, and I hope, meaningful. Hotel housekeepers don't have that luxury. So the only things I can do is to a) not make their jobs even more difficult, and b) tip well.
When I'm just crashing over someplace because of weather, or I'm too tired to drive any longer, a Comfort Inn or Holiday Inn Express is fine. If I have a clean bed, a clean bathroom, a TV, and an internet connection I'm happy. But when I travel for work, it's usually for a conference or a intra-company meeting, so the hotels are pretty nice. In 2009 I lived in a Hilton in Europe for two weeks. I've stayed at Westins, Hyatts, Doubletrees, and yes, even a Sofitel. The Sofitel in Philadelphia has the most awesome beds I've ever slept in. They have these down mattress toppers and duvets that make you feel like you've gone to heaven and are sleeping on a cloud.
There's an interesting thing, though, about what happens in these hotels. A generous room tip means that I come back to a room with a fistful of Andes mints instead of just one. Or a full extra complement of toiletries. Or extra pens. And on the day I leave for good, I leave an even larger tip. It's as if we are exchanging, through hotel swag, a bond of female solidarity. Acknowledging that the person who cleans up after you is a human being too can be a powerful force for good.
I thought of all this while reading this op-ed in the New York Times today by a hotel housekeeping manager, about the risks these women take every day when they go into a room. And then I thought of the news segment I watched last night, about an Assemblyman from Queens who has proposed a law requiring hotels to provide housekeepers with "panic buttons" -- small electronic devices that a housekeeper can press to alert hotel security. The segment asked for the opinions of random New Yorkers, and most seemed to think it was a good idea -- except for the obviously wealthy woman in the posh neighborhood who thought it was "too much government interference" in people's private lives; too much "nanny state."
Because ensuring worker safety is too much government interference into the "private affairs" of giant hotel companies. This woman's attitude so perfectly encapsulated the greedy scumbaggery, the utter lack of empathy, the doctrinaire illogic of today's right-wing conservative, that it got me thinking about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and men like him who believe that the peons who wait on them are somehow less than human. I'd be willing to bet that Strauss-Kahn never, ever, ever leaves a room tip.