Sunday, August 06, 2006

Anti-Hotel California: You Can Check Out Anytime You Like, But Sir You Really Must Leave Now!

Happiness is...Knowing you can check out anytime you like, but you must leave by Noon. This isn't the Hotel California you know!

You must remember the “Hotel California?” “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Well the Hotel Hilton, in Swindon, had a little different meaning for “You may check out anytime you like.”

In 2004, I was sent to a town called Swindon, in Wiltshire, England to provide hiring manager software training to Intel Corporation. I stayed at the Hilton Hotel. Now, the interesting part of this story is, I lived in Swindon for nine years. You ask: “What is interesting about that?” You would think, after nine years of interacting with the English, I would be able to communicate more effectively.

I believe everyone has heard the, “You Say Tomahto, And I Say…Tomato” skit. If not, I have a new version to share. “I say, what time is checkout and you say, you may check out anytime you like Sir.”

I called down to the front desk, to ask, “What time is check out?” The front desk manager politely informed me that I may check out any time I like. I laughed a little bit, as I am humored, but I did re-confirm, “I may check out any time I like?” The front desk replied, “Yes Sir, you may check out anytime you like.” Questioning the validity of this response, I called back to the front desk a few hours later and spoke to a second individual, who provided the exact same response. This time I even felt a little patronized, as if the signal sent was a polite, “Duh!”

The next morning, I called back to the front desk one last time, as I knew deep down that the information on check out times was incorrect. It is not like this is the first hotel I have ever stayed at. However, the third individual I spoke with gave me the exact word-for-word, “You may check out anytime you like, Sir.” So with the three confirmations on check out time, I decide to take a 12:00 p.m. conference call from my hotel room instead of driving to the site office before heading to the airport. I log in to the conference call at 11:50 a.m. As I am chatting to the individuals joining the call, a loud, rapid knock occurs on my hotel room door. I glance at the time and it is 12:04 p.m. I open the door and the front desk person immediately says, “Sir, it is 12:04 and check out time is 12:00.” I said, “The front desk told me three times, I can check out anytime I like.” The response, “You may Sir, you may check out anytime you like, but you must vacate the room by 12:00 p.m. I ended the conference call a little frustrated and immediately went down to check out!

How simple my question and yet so difficult a response. Who’s English were we speaking any way? Was my question too far off? How convenient to be able to check out anytime I like, but how thankful I was, to be able to leave – fortunately, for me, this was not the Hotel California [You may check out anytime you like, but you can never leave]. How would you clarify the check out time? Did I ask the wrong question? It goes to prove that even the most simple of cultural misunderstandings may be interpreted in multiple ways.

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