Aeons ago, I had to travel weekly to a small, totally unsung German town called Bochum, about an hour from Düsseldorf. Every week, I’d stay in the same hotel. Manning the reception desk overnight was Herr Ritter, a quiet, friendly, highly professional man I’d see every night and every morning. I liked him, I got to know him a bit and treated him with warmth and bonhomie.
One night, about nine months into this travel routine, I came back from dinner with an appalling toothache. I downed some painkillers and whisky in an attempt to make it go away, to no avail. By 3am I was desperate. Expecting nothing but perhaps stronger painkillers, I called Herr Ritter at reception. Within 15 minutes, he had woken his dentist; by 4am, I was having a root canal treatment. Amazingly, the dentist didn’t even charge me: ‘A favour to Herr Ritter.’
Twenty years on, I still regularly think of this extraordinary act of kindness and professionalism. I especially think of it when I see the abysmal behaviour regularly afforded to travel professionals: tantrums towards cabin crew over delays that are out of their control; the lack of manners at reception if a room isn’t ready; the haughtiness when immigration staff ask people to move to another (longer) queue; the anger with taxi drivers when there’s traffic. All examples of terribly busy, apparently incredibly important people taking out their frustrations on people just trying to do their jobs.
There’s no denying that we’ve all been there – myself included – but there is something fundamentally repugnant about this superior, disrespectful attitude.
Human beings may not be great at pure altruism, but there’s a selfish reason to be civil as well. Travelling, especially for business, can be a pretty lonely affair. The value of forging relationships can be profound. There’s the simple pleasure of being known by people who you’ve been nice to and who are nice back. In my case, going back to The Mercer in New York or the Four Seasons in Hong Kong or the Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta or even Heathrow’s T5 is like going back to a family, and it has nothing to do with the fixtures and fittings.
Then there’s the special service one receives. In 2008, I took a 40-minute ride out of London with a driver called Gary. We had a wonderful time: he was funny, incredibly smart and cool. Eleven years later, he is still my driver in London and has done all sorts of weird and wonderful things for me, from checking in on my house every week to picking up shampoo for my mother and couriering it to her home.
And then there are the moments of crisis, a long way from home, when you just need someone to save you. The Herr-Ritter-emergency-root-canal-surgery moments. If you’re rude most of the time, who’s going to help you then?
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By the Anonymous Global Nomad
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