You know, of course, that hotel rooms have multiple occupants. Multiple sequential occupants, that is – unless you’re staying in a supercheap eastern European hostel like I did in Budapest in 1993, where the number of occupants definitely outnumbered the number of bunk beds, and where you had to pick your way down corridors lined with coccoon-like sleeping bagged sleepers in the middle of the night if you needed the loo.
So you know, logically, that the hotel room you occupy for a night or longer was stayed in by someone else before you, and will be the resting place for someone else again after you. That’s the point of hotel rooms. That’s how they make their money.
But part of the deal of staying in a hotel is that while you’re there, you get to ignore the fact that you’re sharing a sleeping area with the microbes of hundreds, thousands of strangers.
If it’s a good hotel, they clean it properly before you arrive. They change the bedlinen (apart from the decorative pillows and the patterned comforter which you must NEVER TOUCH for this precise reason).
Vaccuum the floor to get rid of the crusty bits that come off other people’s feet when they’re padding around barefoot.
Wipe the bathroom down to get rid of odd smears and puddles, and mop the floor to remove stray pubes and dandruff.
Straighten the curtains, desk furniture, chairs.
Put the remote back next to the TV.
Whisk away old glasses and mugs and restock the minibar.
And when you’re gone, they’ll do the same all over again, to remove any evidence that you were ever there.
If it’s a good hotel, you need never become aware that someone else had been there before you. But sometimes, even in the nicest hotels, with the mist diligent cleaning staff, they miss stuff.
If you’re lucky, it’s slight greasy smear on the window at nose-height from someone twitching aside the net curtain and pressing their face up against the glass to gaze out at the view. Or a small-denomination coin that’s rolled under the chair. Or a conference namebadge that lingers at the bottom of a drawer.
If you’re unlucky, it’s something worse. Something biological or otherwise unspeakable.
The other day, I stayed in a nice hotel in Oxford. It was clean and (mostly) quiet, with a decent internet connection and walkable to everywhere I needed to be – which means it fulfills my basic criteria for a business trip, though the lack of Marmite at breakfast the next morning was troubling. I had no complaints about the hotel at all. The room was big enough. The bathroom was spotless. I slept well on comfy, soft sheets. No problems.
There was nothing to suggest that anyone else had ever been there. Just as it should be. For one night, we all (me, the hotel owners and staff) pretended that it was, in fact, my room.
In the morning, I had a shower, and when I emerged I was suddenly struck with the realisation that someone – two someones, in fact – had been there before me.
In my room.
In my bathroom.
Sleeping (and not) in my bed.
Scrawled in large handwriting on the steamed-up mirror, a love note, to someone else. Only visible when the mirror was fully fogged, it read “I LOVE YOU.” How long had it been there? A night? A weekend? A month? All year?
And who were these people? Young lovers? Rekindling an old flame? An illicit tryst? And was the love returned? Or consumated? Or spurned? Did the lovee even see the message, blindly groping from a hot shower in search of glasses and a towel?
Strange to suddenly realise you’re not as alone in a space as you might have originally thought.