When it comes to ‘stealing’ from a hotel, none of us is innocent
So, what was the last thing you ever ‘stole’ from a hotel? You can wipe that self-righteous smile off your face because you know that you did. It may have been something as innocuous as a mini-bottle of shower gel or conditioner or something as guilt-inducing as a bathrobe (yes, yes, I know it had your name embroidered on it; and you were never coming back to the hotel, yada, yada, yada) but you did take something that you were not really supposed to.
I ask this because that viral video of an Indian family caught stealing stuff from their Bali hotel has got me thinking. And while I would like to believe that most of us would refrain from such obvious thievery, there is no doubt in my mind that those of us who stay frequently in hotels often help ourselves to stuff that, strictly speaking, should not leave the premises.
I know this is true, because I am among those guilty as charged, as are most of my friends and family (who I polled hastily before sitting down to write this column). Of course, none of us have actually stolen hairdryers and artifacts like that now infamous family in Bali did, but all of us have helped ourselves to stuff as we packed to check out.
In the interest of transparency, here is a comprehensive list of all the things I have ever filched from hotel rooms:
• It is almost taken for granted that guests will take some toiletries with them when they check out. Those mini-bottles of shampoo and shower gel are just the right size for airline carry-on bags, and some of the body lotions are quite divine. So, it should come as no surprise to you that I have pilfered my share of toiletries and snuck them into my wash bag. But my particular weakness, I have to confess, is shower caps. I always pack away a couple of extras in my bag for emergencies, as in when I am ready to step into the shower and realize that housekeeping hasn’t replaced the shower cap I used the day before.
• If a hotel places nail clippers, tweezers or nail files in my bathroom and I use them during my stay, I will pack them in my toilet bag when I leave. They are not going to reuse these (I hope!) and I would rather get more use out of them than let them fill some landfill somewhere. It’s my own personal contribution to the environment (I am just kidding; please don’t send me irate mails about how I am trivializing climate change.)
• Bathroom slippers made of that awful terrycloth fabric? Never. Beach chappals made of coir and weaving and just perfect for walking on the sand? Many a time. My reasoning is simple. The hotel is not going to recycle these beach chappals for their next guest. They are just going to throw them into the trash heap and they will be left to fester in some garbage dump for years. Much better then to take them home and use them on my next beach holiday.
• Most hotels these days will provide you with a kettle and a coffee maker in your room. And I think it goes without saying that you should not take the coffee capsules (even if they are just the right size for your machine back home) and tea bags home. But I have a confession to make. I do steal a few sachets of Splenda or Stevia and stash them in my handbag, especially if I am in a small town either in India or abroad. Not because I am greedy but because I am diabetic. And all too often I find myself in establishments that don’t serve artificial sweeteners with tea and coffee. That’s when those ‘stolen’ sachets turn into literal life-savers for me.
• Personalised amenities are a minefield as far as I am concerned. Most luxury hotels these days take great pride in placing amenities in your rooms that are meaningful to you in some way. So, the dilemma when I check out is should I take them with me or leave them for the hotel to reuse on my next stay.
There is no good answer to this one. A few years ago, I stayed at a hotel that placed an ink portrait of mine by my husband’s bedside. It was a beautiful – and very flattering – picture and I was very tempted to take it with me when I left. My husband demurred; they would use it on our next stay, he said. We should not take it with us. Well, we have been back to that hotel many times since and that portrait has never made a re-appearance. (And yes, I still berate him about it.)
Which goes some way to explain why I chose to pack two teeny-tiny cushions that another hotel had personalized for me with the names of my last two books: my novel, Race Course Road, and my first non-fiction title, Woman On Top. Nobody else could have the slightest interest in them. And I didn’t want to run the risk of never seeing them again.
Does any of this count as ‘stealing’? Yes, strictly speaking, it does. Does any of this make me a ‘thief’? Well, I would like to think not. But the jury is probably out on that one.