"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Monday, February 11, 2013

Is It a Bad Thing to Be in the "Back of the House"?

In class last week, there was some discussion surrounding the hotel's attempts at a skills fair and an offering during the event for free salon services (hair, makeup, and/or nails).  During the discussion I could not decide whether or not this offering was truly just an attraction.   Something to interest them in attending the fair or even perhaps the managements' effort at a "thank you"?  I debated this considerably, reflecting on so many pieces and parts of Hunter's account of the hotel and its norms.  Could some possibly consider it in a completely different way?  Would those that are not currently part of the staff that primarily interface with the guests possibly take offense to a gesture so seemingly innocent?  Not to beat an already dead horse (we did spend a little time on this last week), but I couldn't help but reflect back on this briefly as I considered the office location of the housekeeping staff as described on page 145.  The office was located in the middle of the basement, a placement Hunter portrayed as "marginalizing" comparing it even to the "back of the house."  A concept that in some ways carries a connotation of unimportance and labor that should remain behind the scenes or hidden.  But, I would be remiss to not also consider the positives that she goes on to describe as well.    In this world that they are in, the members of the front desk staff are held to very high standards regarding appearance and overall presentation of self.  Their communications were scripted, their pose was perfect and their behavior had to always be "just so".  Such high expectations even went beyond the boundaries of their work space as the Guest Service Agents were not even allowed to eat in the restaurants or the cafe (once training had concluded) citing an issue "around limited accessibility to the ideal hotel world" as cited on page 147.  Considering all of these restrictions and boundaries, I cannot help but think that the "back of the house" location was really a given opportunity for the housekeeping staff to relax.  How jealous I would have been of their ability to escape from the constraints of the hotel's standards on behavior and appearance, even if just for a moment.  Acknowledging that the Guest Service Agents and others surely had lunch or break rooms for similar use, I can only imagine that the location was probably not far from their work area.  As such, I can't imagine much opportunity to cut loose or really enjoy one's time away for fear that someone may over hear.  The basement location however, as Hunter mentions, offered a safe place for the housekeeping staff to "joke and laugh, to make noise, and even to speak sharply to each other."  Some may argue that the location was still demeaning in its placement, off the beaten path and out of the way of the public.  But I can't help but wonder if one should even go beyond the perception of "the back of the house" and think instead of the opportunity that it presented to hard working staff.  While the promise of conforming with a new hair cut or dress may offer opportunity for some to move "up".  I for one tend to wonder if they passed up the free salon services for a different reason.  For those that prefer freedom to conformity, let me stay down in the basement.


  1. The idea of letting me stay down in the basement is a great perspective that I had not considered Holly. Thank you for pointing it out. I think of our own workroom at school (18 teachers share this space with desks, files etc.). We've been told this is our place to relax and decompress, to complain if needed. Yet, a few of us do not relax or decompress here. I avoid this area, as it brings me down, surrounds me with gossip and the occassional "spy" who gets word out when something negative is said. Now I can look at the people who thrive on the gossip and negativity of the space as maybe choosing "to stay down in the basement."

  2. Holly,
    You do such a great job touching on the complexities of "perceived space". For, in fact, the basement is all of these things: a demeaning, marginal low status space, as well as a third space that the housekeeping has appropriated and made their won (like the Italian women did in the locker room at Triple Z). Our job as writers is to be sure not to reduce these think tapestries into narrow patterns, yes?

  3. Thank you very much for your original perspective. It reminds me of my experience, and office me a chance to think about it in a different light.
    I worked as a housekeeper in Hershey, PA. I always had my lunch with other two Chinese girl housekeepers and two other Spanish-speaker housekeeper in a room downstair next to the laundry room. As I perceived at that time, the room symbolized our status in the hotel. It was not as decent as the dinning area on the first floor where guests ate, and we, low-level foreign workers gathered and ate instant noodle with the noise of washers and dryers.
    However, I just realized that it was also the only place that I could use my mother tongue. I remembered that once when another girl used Chinese in a public space, the manager considered it as very impolite and required her to use English if there were English speakers. The down-stair room was free from this rule. People used the language they were most confortable with, knowing that no manager or guest would be offended by that.
    Again, thank you very much for providing a new perspective :)


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.