Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A woman traveling on business almost becomes a crime statistic because she filled out a room service menu.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1999]
Origins: This snippet of
In 1970, female business travelers were rare birds indeed. Only 1% of road warriors were female. In those not-so-long-ago days, well-dressed women traveling on behalf of their companies were sometimes mistaken for prostitutes, both by hotel security and other guests.
A lot has changed. Today, more than 40% of business travelers are women, and by 2002 that figure is expected to rise to 50%. Though she still greatly prefers to take meals in her room (at least twice as many women as men traveling on business will order from room service), she's a lot less likely to be mistaken for a lady of the evening these days.
In terms of debunking this particular account, there's not much that can be done — dates aren't given, the hotel and city aren't named, and though we (supposedly) have the name of the woman who wrote this missive, without also knowing what company she works for, finding her would be impossible. There is thus no point in asking if it's true — not enough information is provided to call it one way or the other.
Experience in dealing with scarelore, however, indicates the above is merely good advice worked into the form of a cautionary tale. "When traveling alone, don't sign your name on room service orders" is not the kind of message to be retained in people's minds; it just won't stick. Work the finger-wagging into a scary story about a woman who failed to follow this advice and thus barely escaped God-knows-what horrible fate, and the tale's underlying admonition is branded into memory.
The tale tends to fail the plausibility test on a "key" point. Hotels say they will not hand out room keys to just anyone, no matter what relationship that person claims to have to the room's occupant. Especially in the case of one spouse looking for the other, only a fool of a hotel staffer is going to give out a key, no matter what the sob story. The married have too often used hotels to hunker down with someone other than their lawful spouse for any hotelier to presume that a lady who checked in by herself is necessarily sleeping alone.
When an unexpected visitor — husband or otherwise — presents himself at the front desk, standard procedure requires a call be placed to the registered guest. Not even the room number is given out at this point. Only once the guest has given the okay will the visitor either be directed to wait in the lobby for the guest to come fetch him or provided with the room number and directed to the correct bank of elevators to take him to that floor.
Under no circumstances are keys given out to anyone not listed in the registration for that room. Even those who've checked in together should not expect be given replacement keys if they lose theirs and are not noted as one of the room's occupants. Even in the case of properly registered guests, the front desk will demand to see a photo I.D. before issuing a new key.
That is the recommended (indeed, pounded into the heads) procedure, but how this plays out in real life can sometimes stray wildly from the script. Easily-cowed desk clerks can be pressured by insistent "guests" who keeps demanding the key to "their" rooms. The number of fool desk clerks who can be counted on to surrender up the key without first seeing proper ID from the registered guest is small, though, so the likelihood of an invader using this highly unreliable method is remote.
Hotel invaders do exist, but their most effective means of gaining entrance to a victim's hotel room is to simply knock on the door and announce themselves as being from room service or maintenance. (Not surprisingly, even the savvy traveler will often unthinkingly open the door to a stranger under those circumstances.) First presenting themselves to the front desk, thus affording hotel staff to get a good look at them, doesn't fit the basic rule of break-in artists everywhere of not calling undue attention to themselves.
Dead-bolting the door upon retiring is always a good idea — whoknows but that the happy drunk staying down the hall will return to the floor three sheets to the wind at some ungodly hour and by happenstance his key will work on the door he soddenly remembers as being his but which is in reality yours. More likely, one fails to put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign — without the bolt being on the door, the maids are likely to barge in while you're in the shower the next morning.
Those who continue to be very worried about the possibility of someone breaking in while they're there should consider buying a screamer, a device hooked to the door handle which will go off if anyone tries to open the door.
Some hotels do provide "hang on door" breakfast menus which allow the room's occupant to check off desired items and indicate when the meal should be delivered. Such an arrangement can be a real timesaver, as anyone who has ordered breakfast from room service then sat around for an hour waiting for it can attest to. These menus usually have to be on doorknobs by a stated time (often
All of the preceding is not to say that travelers (especially women) shouldn't take certain precautions to foil thieves and invaders or that the dangers hinted at in "Laura Wilson's" account aren't real. You should, and they are. But do these cautions really need to be expressed in the form of a "This happened to me!!!"
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Last updated: 28 July 2006
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