Monday, January 23, 2023

white-glove manipulation

During the pandemic, I read "Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels". The author went undercover and worked at two luxury hotels for a year, to assess how workers felt about customers spending $500 or $800 per night on a room. This book is from the mid 90s, so it would be equivalent to something like $1000 per night nowadays.

The workers were earning around $20 per hour. They used mental techniques to deal with witnessing the wealth differential up-close every day. Some workers looked down on the customers for being uncouth or being unable to endure any hardship due to lifelong pampering. They passive aggressively left rude customers on hold for 15 minutes, and then apologized profusely when taking them off hold. This made the customers frustrated and helpless. Other workers identified with the wealthiest customers and saw them as buddies. 

The customers wanted approval from the workers. These 5-star hotels cultivated an extremely complex and undocumented set of etiquette, to create insecurity in their rich customers. If you don't tip your bellhop, you're a jerk. If you try to tip the receptionist, you're also a jerk. If you tip too little, you're a jerk. How much is the right amount to tip? That depends on many variables and is not posted anywhere, but if you get it wrong, you're a jerk.

The customers end up in a state of insecurity, hoping they don't breach etiquette. They probably also sense that some workers may look down on them secretly. The hotels serve as a finishing school for the rich, teaching them the arbitrary rules. Customers sent flowers to the workers, brought them gifts, and remembered their names. The workers served as judges of who is exuding upper-class behavior and who is an impostor.

I like reading about manipulative systems, to give myself some defenses against manipulative tactics. 

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