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The only difference between first class travellers and first class idiots is the price they pay.
Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel Asia

The fine art of goodbye

Check in to a hotel and you are a darling. Check out and you're treated like a criminal. At least Basil Fawlty was consistently rude.


Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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John Cleese a sBasil Fawlty with the cast of British sitcom Fawlty Towers
Rude to a fawlt, and consistent too

'CAUSE baby goodbye, doesn't mean forever. So goes the refrain of the schmaltzy, but eternally catchy, song "Goodbye Girl" by David Gates. Goodbyes are touching, tearful, testy, tough, and always fraught with the peril of a misplaced word. Hellos are easy. Hotels welcome you with floral garlands and cocktails garnished with fruit and dinky little paper umbrellas that poke your nose. When you leave, you are treated like a criminal until you finally get the bum's rush. "HAVE YOU TAKEN ANYTHING FROM THE MINIBAR?" Your room is checked while you wait guiltily for the phone-in from housekeeping to clear you for final eviction.

It is flawless Fawlty Towers save for a minor difference. In Fawlty Towers, Basil Fawlty, played with deliciously unrestrained malice by John Cleese, ensured guests were tormented upon arrival and departure. There was a rock solid consistency to his raving loony outbursts and berating of guests.

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Recently back from a holiday in Sabah then, my son was delighted to receive a thoughtful farewell note from the hotel where he had stayed. It read: "Dear Mr Verghese and Mr Abbas... In a world of choices we are indeed honored to have been chosen to celebrate your union together... We express our sincerest best wishes to you on your new journey together... Thank you for choosing us to celebrate your Honeymoon."

He showed it to me. I was delighted. And surprised. For one, this was frightfully courteous. For another, my son who lives with me, is unmarried. I know this because I collect his t-shirts and tightly rolled up socks from the floor each day. He was in Kota Kinabalu with a group of former school friends – two young lads sharing one room, and two girls sharing another. The letter was addressed just to the two boys, adding further spice to the spiel. He was chuffed. It is nice to feel special. The letter did the rounds on WhatsApp and elsewhere gaining the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort valuable social media exposure.

Hellos are easy. In Taipei, the Palais de Chine, a luxury designer address welcomes guests informing them this is a modern 5-star hotel "vibrating in the heart of Taipei." That's fun. I have vibrated there myself. The Westin invites guests to "refresh, recharge and rejuvenate". No complaint with that.

Your room is checked while you wait guiltily for the phone-in from housekeeping to clear you for final eviction...

But how do hotels say goodbye? This is the one part of hospitality that few get right. The Amandari Bali sends you off with a small painted wooden rooster as a memento along with a couple of cookies for the journey to the airport. Hotels in Bali may give you small notes with local folklore, and handicrafts. Others wish you peace, or tie sacred threads blessed by priests on your wrists. These are charming traditions.

City hotels could well follow that lead. Some are intuitive to a fault and see you out with courtesy and decorum. The doormen at The Regent and the St Regis Singapore or the Four Seasons Hong Kong are in a class by themselves, recalling guest names, timings and preferences.

Yet, elsewhere, checkout can be tedious, the doorman less-than-obliging, or absent entirely, and the airport taxi a fixed rate deal (with a commission for the hotel) and no prospect of the meter coming on. Bangkok's Royal Orchid Sheraton rates as one of the toughest places to catch a metered cab in the city. At the Grand Hyatt Beijing on Friday nights when post-dinner crowds surge and taxis dwindle the doormen put on a bravura performance to stem a mini riot and get things moving. Peninsula Shanghai bids guests gracious goodbyes. There is little consistency in incoming and outgoing niceties.

Hotel guests and management have a love-hate relationship. It is the undeniable dialectic of the business. Often they get their lines completely crossed as in the following exchange reported by the old Far East Economic Review. We quote.

Hotel room service (RmSv): Morrin. Roon sirbees.
Guest: Sorry, I thought I dialled room-service.
RmSv: Rye...Roon sirbees...morrin! Jewish to oddor sunteen?
Guest: Uh..yes..I'd like some bacon and eggs.
RmSv: Ow July den?
Guest: What??
RmSv: Ow July den?...pryed, boyud, poochd?
Guest: Oh, the eggs! How do I like them? Sorry, scrambled please.
RmSv: Ow July dee baykem? Crease?
Guest: Crisp will be fine.
RmSv: Hokay. An Sahn toes?
Guest: What?
RmSv: An toes. July Sahn toes?
Guest: I don't think so.
RmSv: No? Judo wan sahn toes??
Guest: I feel really bad about this, but I don't know what 'judo wan sahn toes' means.
RmSv: Toes! toes!... Why jew don juan toes? Ow bow Anglish moppin we bodder?
Guest: English muffin!! I've got it! You were saying 'Toast.' Fine. Yes, an English muffin will be fine.
RmSv: We bodder?
Guest: No...just put the bodder on the side.
RmSv: Wad?
Guest: I mean butter... just put it on the side.
RmSv: Copy?
Guest: Excuse me?
RmSv: Copy...tea...meel?
Guest: Yes. Coffee, please, and that's all.
RmSv: One Minnie. Scramah egg, crease baykem, Anglish moppin we bodder on sigh and copy...rye?
Guest: Whatever you say.
RmSv: Tenjewberrymuds.
Guest: You're very welcome.

Now we bid goodbye to another year. Twelve months of 2012 have sped by in a blur faster than a greased pig down a slope. All we can say is tenjewberrymuds. Travel safe but do travel.

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