Thursday, October 22, 2009

"You ponce in here expecting to be waited on hand and foot, while I'm trying to run a hotel here!"

Thanks to a heads-up from Mark Evanier, I spent an enjoyable portion of this morning reading a wonderful Rolling Stone interview (Eric J. Plosky is the interviewer) with one of my comedic idols, John Cleese. It’s essential reading, and the part that made me fall out of my chair is when Plosky asks Cleese whether or not Fawlty Towers actually helped or hindered tourism in the United Kingdom:

I tell you, Hyatt used to show those to their employees as training films, on the basis of, "Watch this; whatever the characters do, do the opposite." That's absolutely true. In the one-man show I'm doing at the moment, one of the lines I say is that the basic British hotelier's motto is: "We could run this place properly if it wasn't for the guests." I think that that's the kind of feeling: that the guests are the people who come in — they mash the process up, otherwise everything would run smoothly.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’re no doubt familiar that I was employed as a night auditor for one or two hotels in the Savannah area, and if I had a nickel for every time I would complain to my fellow employees “This would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the guests” I’d be living comfortably in a penthouse about now. So it’s gratifying to learn that my attitude isn’t an individual one.

(Okay, kids—this is just Uncle Ivan’s way of having fun…by no means is he suggesting you get a job in the hotel industry and be purposely rude to guests. Oh, and stay off drugs!)

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Toby O'B said...

And stay off his lawn! (Welcome to Criderville, Ivan!)

As you know, I'm still a night auditor, and I still carry that attitude. But that's too specific - I go with a line from Paul Lynde in the TV show 'That's Life': "People make me sick. I'm glad I'm not one of them."

(My latest hotel story: A lady from Canada checked out the other morning and after I handed her the copy of her bill and thanked her for staying with us, she asked "Aren't you going to ask me how my stay was?"

I said, "Well, not now!")

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

My long-held theory has always been that auditors get a little leeway in the 'tude department because of the hours they work. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Pam said...

I still contend your years in the "hospitality" bidness is excellent fodder for your up-coming sit-com.

Stacia said...

So, maybe you're the person who will finally explain to me the humor of "He's from Barcelona." Because I never got it, and I've asked about a dozen people, and they don't get it either.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

"He's from Barcelona" is a repetition joke, one of those meaningless phrases that becomes funnier with each use. Fawlty Towers star John Cleese once stated in an interview that it was probably the closest thing the sitcom came to having a catch phrase--he stressed that he was personally opposed to them, finding them absurd--and in fact, the first time it was used it was merely a throwaway comment to explain why the Manuel character was so obtuse. (Cleese also pointed out that it was the Basil Fawlty character who was solely to blame for Manuel's lack of understanding--the custom in British hotels at that time was to hire immigrants and not bother to educate them because they were a cheap labor force.)

Other examples of this type of phrase that you may be familiar with: "So they call me 'Concentration Camp' Erhardt, eh?" from To Be or Not to Be (1942) and "It's nice to be among the magnolias again!" from A Southern Yankee (1948).

For a practical application of the "Barcelona" gag, I direct you to this; it sounds like I made this story up but honest to my grandma, every word of it is true.

Stacia said...

So, it was basically "foreigners are stupid, especially Spanish-speaking ones". I suspected as much, but the issue for me was not knowing if we were supposed to automatically know that Basil was being a jerk with that sentiment. To me it seemed the audience thought it was funny because it was true, which is why I've never been completely comfortable with the phrase, and why I figured for years I was simply wrong about what it meant.