‘Can I have a word with you outside?’ she said, eyes hardening. By her language, I knew I was in trouble somehow. The way she used ‘…have a word, ‘ instead of ‘can I talk with you…’
I followed Alejandra, a slim Chilena woman in her 30’s, long back hair swaying and her riding boots making a hard crack-crack sound on the cement.
I sat across from her at the metal patio table. It was chilly, and I felt my body shiver.
‘We have received complaints about you,’ she said. I was thinking, ‘Whaaat?’ I thought I was very nice with the guest, social without being overly personal. I thought it must be a miscommunication, and told her so.
‘A couple arrived and said you wouldn’t let them stay. They said you told them it was full, but I checked and you still had many beds available.
I remembered them, a couple, huge backpacks, asking for a habitacion privada (private room) with it’s own bathroom. We didn’t have one, so I suggested they go to the other hostel a 15 minute walk away. I told her this.
This seemed to soften her a bit, but she stopped and started asking about what I knew about the recepcion role: am I friendly with the guests (yes), did I turn on the music? (No, no one told me to) Did I take out the trash? (Of course). She asked if I told guests about the town using the small tourist map? Before I could answer, she said, ‘I showed you this before, but perhaps you forgot,’ throwing a glare at me, before explaining all the things one could do.
‘Do you tell them about the tours?’ No, she never told me I should. ‘If you are working in reception you must enjoy being a receptionist, otherwise I will have to replace you,’ she said, giving me a hard look.
I was thinking, so what? I didn’t want to be a receptionist in the first place. ‘You have time here, so you should be looking up things to do and the attractions La Serena has to offer,’ she said. I thought, I am a volunteer working for free, and am here temporarily, if you wanted a higher level of service and knowledge perhaps you should hire someone.
I let her repeat all the things I already knew. I remember Pedro, one of the longtime volunteers saying to me at their other beach hostel prior to my leaving for the hostal downtown: ‘Oh, you are working downtown?’ he said, eyebrows raised. Pedro was a 70 year old guy from Portugal who looked a couple decades younger. He had been there a month and a half, traveling on his rented house money – like me. He said, looking down, face going dark, ‘I wish you luck, my friend. The owner is over there, and…well, I just wish you luck.’
I considered that a warning, but I really didn’t want to know. I figured so many things are due to personality conflicts, or some other individual thing that wouldn’t apply to me.
I should have asked.
I liked being a receptionist, but I had a lightning bolt of terror whenever the phone rang. That meant I had to use my meager espanol skills to communicate. I even wrote down the greeting, so I wouldn’t forget, ‘Buenas tardes, Hostal — —–!’
The other thing was that they only gave me a 30 minute training with a staff person who didn’t speak english well. So, she demonstrated the job using a combination of Spanish and English, and I responded in bad Spanish. Nothing was written down, no checklist to follow, no price list, just 30 minutes and ‘here’s the phone!’
The only thing I could think of was that it was some sort of weird miscommunication with the couple, and said as much, ‘I don’t remember exactly, but for whatever reason we couldn’t accommodate them. But instead of sending them into the night, I got on the phone and made sure there was a room for them at the other hostal.’
Part of me was wondering if this was just a way to tighten up the work. Some sick workplace S&M. But, one thing I’ve learned is to always know you have self-worth, and to stand up for yourself, use your words, and state the facts. If I have done my job, and have nothing to be ashamed about, well then: I have nothing to be ashamed about.
Well, maybe I did something unintentional. ‘I’m sorry if there was something I didn’t understand. But we were communicating in English. But that wasn’t their first language, so maybe that’s it.’ She seemed to accept this, and said, ‘I’m going to Santiago tonight, so I won’t be back for a couple days.’
The next day, I received a whatsapp text from her, ‘We received another complaint, we cannot have you working recepcion anymore. You can stay and do hard garden work for the rest of your time here, or you can leave. Please let me know.’
W The actual F? I thought back on my work time there: There was one time I asked if a guest could help me with a call in Spanish. Another time I stopped checking in a mother-daughter to deal with a couple Chilenos deciding they didn’t want to stay, making the mother-daughter folks wait. Could that be it?
I decided it didn’t matter, and that I didn’t want to stay at a place that didn’t want me there.
Also, I thought back on Pedro’s warning, and that this was probably something that happened repeatedly. Their training sucked, and the owner was a bitch. That’s what I was thinking at that moment. They expected a volunteer, who is only there 2 weeks, to know all the details about their city and all the tours, plus all the small details of opening and closing the hostal, and were pissed off when things went wrong. I didn’t want anything to do with all that.
I just had one ameliorating thought: At least I can get a blog post out of this.
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