After talking to other expats here in Bali, I realise how lucky I have been with my villa guest experiences to date. It can be a little bit hard having visitors sharing my home, but it morphs my customary solitary existence into something approaching sociability. Scary, but nice. My house guests have been companionable, respectful of my space, aware that they are living in a home and not a hotel, and they have been relatively undemanding of my time. And this is as it should be. If in a fit of uncharacteristic generosity I offer free accommodation to impecunious friends and acquaintances, I neither want, nor expect to be subjected to demands that I add value to their stay. That is their job.
Not so for some other Bali expats though. Hearing some of the horror stories about guests who have ‘crossed the line’ have caused my eyebrows to climb well up into my receding hairline and a shiver of apprehension to course through both my belly and my wallet. Despite being really lucky so far, their stories make me question the wisdom of future sharing.
“Where’s the shampoo? There’s no shampoo!” complains a guest, irritated at having to march out of her quarters while wrapped only in a towel. Her compressed lips betray her annoyance at the lack of consumables in her bathroom. “Umm … didn’t you bring any?” asks the perplexed host. “Well of course not!” is the terse retort. “This is supposed to be a luxury villa, isn’t it? You’d expect that a place like this would provide some basic bathroom stuff. You should talk to your landlord, you know.” The irascible guest, staying for free, seems to be under the impression that she is in a hotel. The host, a paragon of patience (which far exceeds mine), explains that this is her home, and like all expats, she buys her own bathroom goodies, or brings in the locally unobtainable high-quality potions from overseas.
Instead of apologising, the guest from hell promptly demands to ‘borrow’ the host’s personal shampoo, her conditioner, a different towel and some toothpaste. She then complains about the soap provided which apparently is no good for her ‘sensitive skin’. During her subsequent three day stay, she not only avoids returning the expensive bathroom supplies, she ‘accidentally’ packs them in her bags on her departure. I suggest to my villa-dwelling friend that she lay in a stock of Drain Cleaner in shampoo bottles, conditioner seasoned with sump oil and some soap embedded with glass slivers specifically for obnoxious guests. The expat demurs, feeling that my proposal is a little extreme, but does hint that this guest won’t be invited back.
At a different villa, with different guests who have stayed for three weeks: “A tip? For the pembantu? What for?” says the visiting family’s matriarch, a fearsome woman who has treated the villa staff like indentured slaves. The host, a gentle man (and a gentleman) of my acquaintance, calmly explains that it is customary in Bali for guests to leave a tip for house staff. After all, with normal villa occupancy, there is an accepted workload that attracts an agreed salary. With the added room cleaning, laundry and other extra demands by guests, staff workload increases and a tip is not just payment, but a recognition of worth. “Rubbish!” is the rejoiner. “She gets a salary already. You can’t spoil these people, you know.” After his guests leave, the host pays the staff a bonus anyway. They are happy, but of course he is out of pocket. He is philosophical, but not so much that he would invite those guests again.
Yet another expat who has now sworn off taking in guests is one whose attempts to be hospitable have cost him dearly. His visitors insist on leaving the bedroom air-conditioners on all day ‘because it is really unpleasant coming home to a hot room’. They also keep the temperature at 16 degrees all night – while sleeping under a thick duvet ‘because it’s too cold otherwise’. When he points out that electricity is expensive in Bali, they dismiss his objections with an airy “Don’t be silly – everything is cheap in Bali”. They also demand that he change their money “because we don’t trust the money-changers here”, proferring him a fistful of badly-worn, small-denomination bills. Because he works here and employs a driver, they want to be driven around the island every day, for free, because “your driver already gets a salary from you”. His patience is more on a par with mine; after three days, he pleads urgent business in Singapore and kicks them out to stay at a hotel. Good on him.
What is it with some of these people? Are they just ignorant, or stupid, or just incredibly selfish?Remember that these stories are from private homes, not commercial villas. There is no profit in accommodating guests, in fact there is a loss. We expats are happy to absorb the cost of being hospitable to friends and acquaintances because it is part of normal social interaction. We don’t expect them to be pathetically grateful, but we would like them to act like responsible, albeit temporary family members in our homes. In my case, I have been fortunate, because my guests have been delightful company as well as good friends. But to the users and losers out there, how about you stay at a hotel – I suspect we will all enjoy the experience much more.