My father was a city planner so I got the city planner’s view of cities when I was growing up. Can you say, “mixed use development” and “let’s go look at the integrated parking structure”? I know all about Mansard roofs and space utilization, but the good part was we got to go into hotels. Most Westerners don’t understand hotels – you spend the night, you pay, you leave, but I got lectures about how hotels integrate the urban structure while you were playing video games. He taught me about that hotels are an important part of the fabric of a city and when I moved the Middle East, I finally understood what he meant.
Living overseas means you use hotels as a kind of informal club – in some towns the lobby of a big hotel is the only place to have a cup of coffee and read a book in peace. Hotel staff have some training in the English language and are used to crazy Western people so you can get your questions answered. You can buy postcard stamps without running the gamut of the post office if you are not feeling up to it. You can browse Western magazines to find out how your favorite stars are sleeping with and eat a hamburger (remember to ask for it without the fried egg!). You can be assured of toilet paper in the bathrooms and wait staff who know what ‘ice’ is.
Living overseas is wonderful – but there are those days when you get woken up at 6am to the whine of someone drilling through cement, you almost hit a goat on the way to work, you arrive at work to find the fire alarm going off 5 times in one hour, no one is ready for the meeting because there was a very important soccer game on last night, and the three people who were supposed to come to your dinner party send regrets because one has a GI infection, one has to wait for the carpenter to show up to fix her front door which has fallen off its hinges and one is stuck in the limbo of phone company, trying to her internet hooked up.
Days like that, you want to run to a big hotel, say ‘iced cappuccino’ and actually get an iced cappuccino. Saying ‘iced cappuccino’ at a regular café is a total crap shoot. It might arrive with or without ice; there might be chocolate syrup, whipped cream, cinnamon and/ or chocolate sprinkles. It can arrive in any shade from ivory to black and have one, two or three shots of espresso. Usually it’s fun to order one and see what appears, but sometimes you have had quite enough surprises for one day – then it’s time for the hotel.