Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Being Nice

Our housekeeper called in sick today, so I spent the morning pulling clumps of decaying human hair out of the shower drain.

It’s the Mediterranean girls who are the worst offenders. I remember one olive-skinned French beauty, whose perfect curves and flawless bone structure left me feeling vaguely deformed. The next morning when she checked out, I cleaned the shower drain and discovered a dripping mass of chestnut-colored hair the size and heft of a drowned cat. It’s as though she was undergoing a particularly brutal course of chemotherapy, and had come to New Zealand to convalesce.

But the filthy drains are as bad as it gets. On the whole, running a youth hostel is a notoriously easy job. The cleaning is mindless, there isn’t that much money to count, and all you really have to do is be kind to the guests.

It’s that last part I have difficulty with.

I realize that my personality is not suited to this work. Basically, I am an angry, troll-like person, who will do anything to avoid making small talk. At one point last summer, I came up with a fool-proof plan, something that would allow me to live rent-free at the hostel without actually dealing with guests.

But then Peter ruined it. “You can’t throw feces at people,” he protested. “You’ll get arrested.”

And so I toiled on, wearily attempting to be friendly to the happy young holiday-makers. I asked them where they were from, feigning interest when they told me. I gave them reasonably clean beds, and showers that were largely hair-free. When they had trouble with English, I bantered with them in French, and stumbled through my broken Spanish and Italian. I baked fresh bread in the mornings, and gave them eggs from our chickens. Occasionally, I even dabbled in a little friendly political debate.

Last November, for example, on the evening of the American elections, an elderly New Zealand couple came to stay at our hostel. “This is a historic night!” I told them, raising my wine glass. “The end of the Evil Empire is nigh!”

“Do you think so?” they asked, peering at me over their cups of weak tea. “What’s wrong with the chap you have now?”

The glass nearly shattered in my hand. “WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIM?” I spluttered. “Besides ignoring habeas corpus, torturing prisoners offshore, starting a horrific war in Iraq and presiding over the collapse of the world financial system? BESIDES THAT, you mean?”

“But that other fellow, Obama…” they persisted. “Isn’t he dark? You don’t want him in there, do you?”

I nearly threw feces at them. But that would have been rude. Instead, I simply walked away.

There is an online message board that posts reviews of backpacker hostels in New Zealand. It is supposed to be a way for travellers to get an idea of what each hostel is like before they go there. But because the reviewers post anonymously, it is more of a virtual forum where people can say mean things and disappear. Occasionally, a traveller posts something nice about the bread I make in the mornings, or comments about how clean the hostel is.

But shortly after my chat with the racist kiwis, the following posting appeared online:


And they're right, of course. Our furniture is a lovely shade of green.


  1. I happily studied your photo of the g. spinigerum for quite some time (like, what the hell is inside its gut? could those be... BABY spinigerums?) but damn near gagged when I saw the photo of the hairball. Something is wrong with me.

    Also, I must try to use the word 'abysmal' more often.

  2. You go girl. Putting up with racists attitudes normalizes racism. I used to be polite. Now I speak up. Some people no longer talk to me much, but I don't miss their company.

    Andy in Mpls

  3. You should have done what I did in Zihuatenejo with jetskiiers from every cruise ship whose favourite activity was to circle boats in the anchorage...
    Stale bread.
    Need I say more?

  4. This post made me laugh out loud. So glad to see you haven't changed a bit! xo j