Portal Reportażystów

Popularity in dark colours

Maciej Kozłowski
Translation: Joanna Cal

− She hates him because he calls her Paris Hilton. Whatever, we have no choice but to ask him for help. I don’t know anything about electricity.
− Have you told him yet?

Paulina didn’t manage to answer when he stood in his ugly sweats, squeezing the mop, in the half-open glass doorway to the hostel, leading from the corridor of the building, which he cleans every morning. He looked around the room with fear in his eyes.
− She’s not here! – Paulina assures him and, with a delightful plea in her voice, adds: − Please, you must help us. There is no electricity, and everyone will be up soon.

He’s hesitating – in fact, it’s not in his power to do anything with electricity here, and he doesn’t want to have any more wrong-doings under his belt. And if Paris found out that he dared to cross the threshold of her “Hilton”, he would certainly get it in the neck. But the girls’re asking him as if only he could save them. It’s difficult to refuse a hero’s role.
− The electricity packed in around 4 am − says Paulina, introducing him and Kasia (the daytime receptionist) to the details of the situation. − I found some candles and put them to the toilet, but they’re about to burn out, and there’s dark as hell.

There’re no windows in the entire common area of the hostel. The corridor, kitchen, living room, toilets, reception – everything is covered by darkness. It’s Saturday morning, the hostel is full of people, in a dozen or so minutes the first of them will start getting up for breakfast. The maids, whose duties include preparing breakfast, can’t do it, as there are no windows in their cubbyhole either (which the sanitary officer would never call a business kitchen).
− Easy peasy − says the cleaner when he discovers the situation. − The fuses blew − using his phone as a torch he shows the girls a row of ”electrical boxes”. − You even have a signature here: “kitchen”, “toilets”, “corridor”. All must be up. − Boldly, with a rhythmic movement, each switch is lifted to the desired position and gradually the brightness comes up in the whole hostel.

The receptionists were beside themselves with joy and gratitude.
− So, if it blows again, should I simply check these buttons? − Kasia makes sure, because she’s just starting her shift and doesn’t want, like Paulina, to sit in the dark. Admittedly, she works during the day, but it makes little difference when there’re only windows in the guest rooms. Paulina’s attitude amazes her, she didn’t look scared at all, and yet she spent four hours here alone, in the dark. Even with the light, the night-time receptionist’s work here is full of risky situations, and Paulina definitely has nothing of a night-time bugger or a massive security guard from a nightclub. She is the type of small, pretty doll with a head of curly blonde hair.

Her shift lasts from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. and at that time she’s the only present employee of the hostel. She herself watches over the cash register, night silence, cleanliness in the common areas, she opens and closes the car park, reports guests and solves all their problems. Guests are often drunk, including male groups of English, Dutch or German people coming to Wroclaw for bachelor parties or even just for a weekend outing for cheap beer and easy girls. Eastern Europe (to which Poland belongs) is a fashionable entertainment among amateurs of events from the West.

The hostel receives a lot of such guests – it’s located in the very centre of Wrocław, in the immediate vicinity of the market square, music clubs and tram lines running through the most attractive nightlife points of the city. At the same time discreetly hidden, by the square behind the dark, long gate, meeting all the requirements of a typical dealer’s alley. The hostel occupies only the third floor of the massive building, the rest of it houses other companies, so the main entrance is open to everyone, all night long. Paulina closes the door on the third floor, leading from the staircase directly to the hostel, but it’s a glass door opposite the reception, so she remains in view of possible attackers. And besides, she can’t sit up all night closed, because she also has to do laundry, and the laundry room is actually in the corridor, by the dark and dead staircase, opposite the hostel door. When she hangs up her wet sheets and towels, she leaves the door open to keep an eye on what’s happening at the reception. The cash register isn’t locked, and to get to the hostel you don’t really have to go through the door (so their locks are pretty useless). You can take the lift from the ground floor of the building (straight from the dealer’s car park) right in the middle of the hostel − to the corridor, and you can do it completely unnoticed. There’re dummy cameras and a button under the desk calling security. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but usually the security guard shows up after ten minutes.

For having to face all these risk factors, Paulina gets a higher rate than the daily receptionists − PLN 9 per hour, which is a take-home pay. Everything here is a take-home pay, because everyone (a dozen or so people in total), apart from Paris, work “under the table”.

Do you really need a contract? She asked as if I were some weird fan of unnecessary bureaucracy − says Kasia. − I said no, because I don’t really want this job. I’m not interested in a career in the hotel industry. But for the time being, because of studies, it’s a quite good solution. I work here when I want, so I can go to university, I have contact with foreigners, I improve my language skills, and it’s always some kind of money.

PLN 7 per hour − this is what the staff working on a daily shift gets and it’s a constant rate, although there are bonuses for good sales. For Paris, as a likely-looking manager, efficiency and a good reputation are paramount. That’s why she follows the principle of “as little formality as possible, as much profit at least cost”. She takes care to make the hostel look like a five-star oasis of peace. Measured, of course, not in the stars of the provincial categorisation committee, but in the Booking.com portal. From 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. she works at the reception desk, after which she rarely returns home. She paints walls in rooms (with fresh paint on the old one), changes carpets, buys cutlery, flowers, hygienic sticks for maids to precisely clean fugues in showers. And she constantly counts the stars. That’s why guests from Booking can do nearly anything. They get the best rooms, always a precise change, a map of Wroclaw and sweets for welcome. They can be even registered in a room that has already been booked by someone else, dismissing this “ordinary mortals” empty-handedunder the pretext of failure, mistake or some kind of emergency. Bookings tourists always have to get clean, dry towels, which is often impossible because there’re too few of them in stock. It’s therefore best not to offer towels to other guests unless they ask.

Due to their “better position”, or the power of potential opinion, “theBookings” can make noise, leave a mess in the kitchen, check in a little earlier or check out later (their rooms are a prority for the maids). They just can’t give up their room and not pay.
− Why there are no payment for room 22? − Paris asks Kasia, checking the bills from her yesterday’s duty.
− That was a family from Booking, they booked a room after 9 p.m. They arrived and when they found out there was no bathroom in the room, they didn’t want to stay. They were with a little child and the bathroom was crucial for them.
− But they should pay 30% of the room price for the cancellation.
− Okay, but they didn’t even go in there − explains Kasia − and the room was rented a moment later by some guy.
− Booking will charge us a commission for a room rented, so how does that pay off for us?
− So I was to demand a several dozen zlotys from people for not wanting a room?
− For the fact that they booked it. You have to write to them and get the money.
− But they were from the Booking − Kasia uses a strong argument − they get pissed off and give us a bad opinion.
− I’ll mark them on the panel as “not arrived”, so they can’t give an opinion. Then I don’t give a fuck what they think.

Paris also came up with the idea of subduing the Booking and every now and then, when some ”mean” people pour scorn on her “Hilton”, she makes phoney bookings − she tells her friends to “rent” a room through the portal, so that they can later give their flattering opinions. That’s why the popularity rate is always around 8/10. And the popularity attracts not only adventurous “bachelors” from abroad, but also scientists coming to conferences, doctors, athletes, although often simply construction workers.
− Those in room 18 – we must banish them. − Paris instructs Kasia − they stink.
− But they always pay in advance and take the biggest rooms.
− I don’t care, I’ll rent this room anyway. They leave such a stench behind… in the kitchen, as they even pass by, and that’s next to the guests from Booking. They have to be told that the room is already booked for tomorrow, there are no others and they have to check out. You can even recommend them some competition.

− The Ukrainians must also be kicked off. I don’t want them to cook all day in the kitchen. The guests from Booking can’t even drink tea in peace.
The Ukrainians, about ten people, came here to work straight from Ukraine and probably something went wrong with their employment. I think the employers are constantly postponing the beginning of it, because they have always been checking in only for one night, and have been doing so for a week now. They pay with carefully calculated money and each one separately for their bed (usually guests settle for the room). Tomorrow, when they arrive at twelve o’clock, as usual, they won’t be staying longer. Paris tells them to leave their rooms immediately, informing that the hotel day has just ended and their rooms are already booked by other guests.

A hotel day is a peculiar term. Actually it’s not the whole day. It’s a special day, you might say like one from the the Old Testament, calculated roughly from dusk to dawn. It seems logical − you rent a room for the night, but what if someone is looking for accommodation in the morning? 5 a.m. − is it still yesterday or today? As usual, Paulina didn’t get it. “As usual − she mocks − the blonde”.

On weekends, Paris is free, but it still remotely controls the reception. She has a preview of the booking programme at home and constantly calls to instruct the girls what to do.
− Pay attention to those of the 5. They paid for one night. Paulina checked them in in the morning, so they have to release the room by 12.00. If they want to stay until tomorrow, they have to pay for a second night. If they simply want to stay longer, let’s say until 4 p.m., you can allow it, but for an extra charge. The girls have a lot of work to do today so by 4 p.m. all the rooms will definitely not be cleaned, this one they can clean as the last on.
(The maids are only supposed to work until 1 p.m. according to the verbal agreement).

The couple from Sosnowiec, who found a quiet corner here at dawn, don’t intend to pay extra. For them the situation is simple − they checked in today, so they can stay until tomorrow and won’t pay a penny more. They mock Kasia, who according to them isn’t familiar with the calendar and is too stupid to know what means ”today” and what means ”yesterday”, they slam the door and threaten her. Actually they look like they have some kind of connections to the underworld. They don’t agree to leave the hostel at 12 o’clock, so Kasia registers them in the system for the second hotel day, with the note “owing”. They will have to pay the bill at check-out, and tomorrow is Monday, Paris has a morning shift and that will be her problem. However, Kasia didn’t suppose, that it would be so hard.

Paris calls her before 9.00 a.m., and you can easily hear that she is put out.
− “An urgent case’’ − she says − you must come. The girls didn’t come to work.
− What girls?
− The maids. These mean scrubs… they conspired and quit their jobs, all three. The girls who clean on weekends can’t come, so I need someone at the reception right away and for the whole week, until I find new maids.

The hostel on Monday morning looks like a vestibule of the gutter − grunge in the toilets, piles of bottles and leftovers in the kitchen, one and a half meters pile of dirty bed linen and towels, a racket at the reception, because everyone checks out faster than usual. And there’s no staff to clean up it all.

Paris is pissed off because of her nickname − actually she really has nothing of this woman, nothing to do with glamour and wealth. She is an ordinary girl from the province who started her career in the hostel with the position of maid, and has already experienced a lot in her life. That’s why it’s no problem for her to clean up the hostel itself, all the more so because she managed to ask for help Ala, who casually works here on a mangle. Kasia stays at the reception, and they two start cleaning up the whole weekend mess.

Paris is ambitious in her approach − she wants to prove (it’s unknown to whom) that she can do better without these “mean scrubs”. A pile of dirty bed linen is growing at an alarming rate, the washing machines are running at full speed, but there’s no progress seen. There’s no heating in the laundry, and it’s winter, so nothing dries. There’s no bed linen, because there are not enough sets of pillowcases, so you can’t finish cleaning the rooms. So Paris with verve manages to wash the baseboards, which “these rags” have never done. She’s cleaning the windows, curtain rods, fridge. Having few people and a lot of work, acting like crazy she finds even more, with the idea of “I’ll show them”. But her managerial sense starts to fail. At 12:00 half of the rooms are not ready yet, and Ala is ragged and determined never to come here again. For the maids it’s a simple decision because they take the salary after each day of work, directly “to hand”, as Paris prefers.

Kasia’s trying to find out more about the maids’ “rebellion” from Ala. Why didn’t they come? Did they plan it? Ala doesn’t know the details. But… why? Maybe it’s because of the cleaning of the toilet with hygienic sticks, maybe because of the eternally clogged toilet (because of a faulty mill), maybe because of the wet mattresses and laundry that never dries, maybe because of urine bottles left in the shower, persistently burnt toaster and spontaneously extended working hours in this “five-star” tabernacle.

Passing by Paris looks darkly at Ala, who is talking to Kasia at the reception, instead of cleaning up.
− I’m talking about what we found this morning − a bit confused Ala explains.
Someone left their excrement in the kitchen under the table. Certainly the one from Sosnowiec.
− I couldn’t clean it up − Ala is disgusted and feels the vomit swell inside her.
− And I don’t care. – Paris proudly interferes – I don’t disgust with shit.