My friend Ruprecht (not his real name) wants me to write a column about hotel kleptomaniacs.
Having just returned from holidaying at the Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu, which is known far and wide as the "Pink Palace", he found he had souvenired so many of the hotel's pink pens he could set up a stationery shop. There was the little matter of the shampoos and conditioners. He admits he has a drawer full of them. Is he a thief?
I told him he probably didn't qualify as a kleptomaniac. I have a couple of that hotel's pink pens, too. In fact, I have buckets of pens gathered, often unintentionally, from hotel rooms I've stayed in. The Roosevelt L.A. Raffles Singapore. Emirates Palace. (Those are just the ones I'm using today.) Pens are useful and I have to say, flourishing a lime green one with Le Bristol Paris written down the side has more show-off factor than my usual black Artline 200.
There may be a hotel guest who never checked out without taking at least a little something from the room. If there is, I've never met them. These days, the wholesale ransacking of towels, bathrobes and umbrellas will certainly be met with a charge on the credit card you volunteered upon check-in, but there are smaller amenities, such as soaps, shampoos and stationery that seem ripe for the taking.
Are they? Well, yes, as the cost of the guest using these is factored in. I think completely cleaning out the hotel room of all soaps, shaving kits, bath mitts, shampoos and bubble bath is ill-mannered, as is stealing anything from the housekeeper's cart, but I don't see anything wrong with taking the occasional thing you haven't used and which takes your fancy.
I have to say that if a hotel has the good sense to stock Aesop amenities, I'm likely to abscond with some of them. Ditto really beautiful writing paper and sweet little notepads - I can't resist.
Environmentally, the little bottles of shampoos are wasteful and many hotels are replacing them with sensible refillable containers, so we may see the demise of the amenity souvenir soon. If you do find you've inadvertently collected a drawer full of little bottles you can put them to good use by donating them to your local women's refuge. They're always grateful for little luxuries to pass on to women and families who often flee home with nothing.
Ultimately, though, hotels rather like you taking away items that have their logo on it. They evoke memories of your stay (hopefully positive ones) and it's a promotion for the hotel whenever you unfurl that Plaza Athenee umbrella or put a filched Raffles coaster under a drink.
That's one of the reasons famous hotels like Raffles have established boutiques selling branded merchandise. Everything you find in the room and more, such as scarves and carry bags, can be bought if you want to Raffles-ise your life.
Bathrobes and towels take up too much space in one's suitcase, which is why they're not stolen as much these days. Some five-star hotels will even monogram your bathrobes to encourage you to remove them. I once stayed in a suite at the Connaught in London and they placed a wonderful, thick bath sheet on my bed with my name embroidered on it.
I'm not sure if it was a back-handed compliment and they expected me to steal the towel in the first place. But I accepted it as a thoughtful gift. In fact, I had to wrestle it back off a maid who was trying to take it to the laundry. I dried myself with it this morning, which is why I remember.
Hotels also tend to give guests the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the full set of Frette sheets just "fell" into your suitcase or you forgot you put the silver salt and pepper shakers in your socks for safekeeping? Management doesn't want to accuse guests unnecessarily, so they're careful about causing offence. But you're not likely to succeed if you try to walk out with the king-sized bed, although no doubt someone has tried that, given that many hotels now sell their beds too. If only they still had ashtrays. They were so easy to souvenir. Or so they say.
There's a new hotel in Oslo that is called The Thief. I hope it has all its furniture and crockery bolted down.
- FFX Aus