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I don’t think people fully grasp what women who work at hotels go through.
I started out over 10 years ago as a housekeeper. I worked with a group of women who made me feel welcome, who didn’t hassle me too much because I took longer than they did to clean a room.
During my short stint as a housekeeper, I heard stories from the others. Housekeepers cleaning rooms of men who refused to leave the room as they cleaned, who stood a little too close, and made sexual advances that ranged from innuendo to locking the door and trying to make a move on them.
I heard stories of men who purposely didn’t respond when housekeeping knocked on doors to announce their presence, only to open the doors on men posing nude or masturbating in front of the door. When these things happened, the housekeepers would back each other up. No point in telling the managers or hotel owners. Housekeepers were easily replaced while the latest pervert’s money -- not so replaceable. Housekeepers dealt with it on their own.
Once perverts were identified, 2 or 3 women would clean his room together, making sure that door remained open the entire time. There was safety in numbers and said pervert’s room would be fully cleaned in 7 minutes or less. I was lucky that none of that happened to me in my 4 months as a housekeeper.
A girl quit at the front desk, and I reminded the manager that I hadn’t applied for housekeeping, but took the job on the promise that I would be moved as soon as there was room for me. So, I moved to the front desk, which I immediately regretted.
As I learned the ins and outs of front desk work and customer service, I also learned that our hotel mostly catered to men traveling for work. My first experience of harassment came pretty quickly.
A guest who had already stayed enough times to be designated as a “regular,” would always chitchat and joke around while I would check him in. When I would hand his change back to him, he’d grasp my hand. I would pull my hand back with my smile plastered on my face, all the while wishing he would just take his key and leave.
Then finally came the day when he held my hand between his, my smile tense as I white-knuckled his change. At this point in the dance, I had already made it a point to put the money on the counter instead of anywhere near his hands, but he grabbed my hand as I was putting his change down and whispered, “I will give you 20 dollars to come to my room.”
When what he meant dawned on me, I pulled my hands from his grasp, threw his money on the floor and screamed at him to leave. I screamed a bunch of other things. It was a long time ago, the first time I had been insulted that way. He scurried out and after that, he made sure to never check in when I was working. I’d watch him as he’d walk by to get to the bar, and he never made eye contact or any other kind of contact with me again.
There aren’t any video tapes or manuals of how to deal with sexual harassment from customers. At least none that I’ve ever seen or heard of. It sounds ridiculous, and some people think and have told me: Just say no, tell him you’re not interested, tell him you don’t date customers, tell him it’s against policy, make it clear and make it simple.
But it’s not that simple.
It’s been over a decade later since my first offer from a guest to pay me for sex. I’ve never screamed like that at anyone else since then. Once I laughed and said, “Are you for real?” I’ve learned that laughing does not go over very well.
Another time I responded with, “I don’t go to guest’s rooms, it’s not allowed.” This didn’t work either, because then I ended up just making excuse after excuse: “Well, no I’m not taking you to my home,” “No, I won’t go with you to another hotel,” “I’m not gonna ‘do it’ in my car.” And on and on . . .
Now I usually respond with, “I don’t know why you would think that I would do that, but no, I won’t.” Some men quickly back down and apologize and I make it a point never to bring it up again if they return to the hotel. Others are persistent and start upping the price, “Well what about $50. . .No. Okay 100 . . . What do you mean no. . . . Okay I will go up to 150."
You would think that most guests would be like the first, embarrassed enough to avoid my shifts, or start staying at some other hotel. But that’s not always the case. Some men retaliate by trying to get me in trouble.
I’ve had managers come down on me for being rude to guests, when truthfully; everything was smiles and rainbows until he made the offer and I turned the guy down. I’ve made it a point to always inform management and the other front desk staff of when it happens. Because I do that, I’ve managed to keep my job. But honestly, any repercussions would be one-sided. Nothing would happen to a guest, but I could get in trouble and lose my job.
We are called the Front Desk Staff because we have to be there, manning the front desk. So, when a guest wants to flirt, we can’t leave.
That guy literally has a captivate audience. Leave and risk your job. Stop smiling and risk your job. Piss that guy off and risk your job. Ask your friends or significant other to hang out in the lobby with you, and you will lose your job.
Regular Joes get the hint and move on. Other guys won’t leave. They check in. Flirt. You turn them down. Then comes the questions: are you married? No, well why not go out with me? We can drink here and then let’s see what happens.
My response to this is usually along the lines of, “So let me get this straight, you want to take me out. But you want to take me to the bar of the hotel I work in and then to a room of the hotel I work in? You want to take me to work.” If the guy’s cool, we have a laugh. If not, well then, this can become a problem.
Mr. Persistent will stay up at the front desk sometimes for hours. In one particular case, a Mr. Persistent showed up for 3 days when I came to work and stayed my entire shift for 3 days, telling me in detail what he wants to do to me and/or what he wants me to do to him.
But I can’t leave. I can’t walk away. I can blush. I can smile tensely. I can use my cell to constantly call the front desk office phone and pretend to make reservations until Mr. Persistent leaves. But I cannot laugh at him. I cannot insult him. I cannot yell or cuss at him. Not if I want to keep my job.
What can you do? You’re a dime a dozen, easily replaceable. There’s always a stack of applications of people who want your job. There are Post-it notes with messages from former employees, all wanting to come back. There may not be anyone who can do what you do better or more efficiently, but when the boss does the math on what your complaints are worth vs replacing you, well you don’t come out on top in this one.
What can you do? I’ve stood at the front desk while my boss spoke to a friend on the phone, “Yeah, this place is nothing but T and A. The property needs a lot of work, but every man that stays here stays for the T and A. There are 5 girls at the front desk, 5 housekeepers. . . . Oh boy….oh yeah. You should see these girls. And two of the housekeepers are sisters. Man!” (This is how clueless I was in my early 20s, I had to ask my roommate what T and A was).
For years, I watched this man drink his coffee and watch the housekeepers cleaning the lobby. He just stared as they bent over to clean the bottom of the lobby doors with brasso. He sipped his coffee without taking his eyes off them when they were on their hands and knees on the floor or reaching up to wash windows. And this man was the best boss I ever had. He paid well and he gave the best office parties.
Who would help me? Would the manager who did nothing to the Night Auditor who constantly asked me to participate in a threesome and threatened to follow me home help me? How about the manager who told me to unbutton a few more buttons on my blouse “for the customers”? Or maybe the manager who kept trying to give me neck massages? Maybe he would help me. What about the other girls at the front desk? No, no they can do nothing more than share their own stories of frustration and scary close calls.
It’s been over 10 years and I still work the Front Desk. We still mostly cater to men traveling for work. I still get propositioned. I still say no. My bosses still don’t care.