Dubai: The viral video of an unidentified Indian family caught red-handed with all sorts of ‘souvenirs’ from their hotel room in the Indonesian resort of Bali, has caused an outrage and embarrassment to all Indians worldwide.
But it raises basic questions about ‘opportunistic kleptomania’ that people irrespective of nationality or race are guilty of.
The term means that most humans who have a fairly sturdy moral compass, suddenly go beserk when they travel and have the feeling that they are not monitored and can push the envelope a bit further than normal.
Under the cloak of anonymity they feel emboldened to blur the boundaries of ethics and do things that are startling and questionable.
The euphoria of a holiday and the sense of security in being ‘paid guests’ drives this need. Fans of the sit com Friends might recall the episode where Ross and Chandler swipe soaps, shampoos, sewing kits from their hotel room. Still others feel safe enough to swipe off bottle openers, cutlery and even silverware from fine dining hotels.
Dr Padma Raju Varrey, specialist senior psychiatrist from NMC Speciality Hospital, Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News: “Kleptomania is more of an impulse control disorder where an individual suffering from it cannot stop himself from stealing. However stealing from hotel rooms or shoplifting is not such an irrational disorder which I would describe as atypical non professional shop lifting. People who indulge in it are non-professional theft offenders.”
Dr Varrey said such category of people who pick up things a inconsequential as a matchbox or hand-towel exist everywhere in the world. “This can happen anywhere and to any person irrespective of class, nationality, race or gender. We have had so many celebrities being caught shop lifting where they flick some seemingly inexpensive items, not because they cannot afford these, but owing to an uncontrollable urge to indulge in such an acitivity.”
However, in this case he described the act as premeditated where people systematically stole the hotel’s property and attempted to escape with it.
Breakdown on confrontation
Dr Varrey explained that such an urge is ruled by a reckless pleasure seeking impulse.
“When people are caught they go through stage of repentance. First when confronted, they go agressive and rude, when they are exposed and the cache of the items looted shown, they try to be non-chalant and casual and offer to pay their way through. Eventually when the authorities that be refuse to relent, extreme guilt takes over and they feel ashamed, remorsefull and even plead and beg.”
In the two-and-half minute video, viewers witnessed an entire gamut of emotions that this family went through.
At first, they were in denial, boisterous and rude to the hotel staff when intercepted. Later as baggage after baggage that was opened revealed all hotel property ranging from - soaps dishes, dispensers and hangers to audio speakers and curtains their tone changed to audacious offer to pay their way through the ignominy.
However, with an unrelenting staff insisting on exposing their entire crime, the family members began pleading and profusely apologising.
In one frame we find the head of the family, actually making a gesture of touching the feet of the hotel staff, an extreme Indian gesture to show remorse and ask for pardon.
The encounter could have happened with a family of any nationality as ‘opportunistic kelptomania’ exists across borders and nations and is an occupational hazard that exists in hotel’s around the world.
How to control this urge
Hotel staff globally is trained to politely look the other way. In some hotel rooms we see price tags attached to bathrobes and expensive towels.
If one were to take it away, no questions are asked but that amount is simply added to one’s bill.
What needs to be addressed is this sense of entitlement that tourists experience.
Paying for their trip and renting expensive rooms for their recreation somehow leads them to the belief that they own the place and can pick up anything and walk away. Many do succeed in gathering the ‘souvenir bounty’ Few like this family are caught in the act and generate a discourse of the ethics of such social behaviour.
Dr Varrey explained: “There are two levels to this. First people must realise that just as they feel vulnerable to theft, hotels groups too feel the same. Every towel, every soap dish is accounted for and as soon as a guest vacates the room, the bell boy is sent to take an inventory.
"If he finds a samll item such as paper knife or soap dish missing, he is informs the management who usually write it off. However, if people strip the hotel room clean, it is his duty to alert the management and they have every right to confront the guest and make him accountable if many expensive items from the room are missing.
"Just like you wouldnt want guests in your own home to steal your stuff, accoutability is an equal right for hotels as well.”
On another level, people fall in line and are disciplined if there can be a note in plain display that cautions them about desisisting from such a theft.
“The hotel can politely leave a note in plain sight that says that any missing items will be charged to the guest, perhaps the guests will sober down.”
Most families are aware that beyond a few insignificant matchboxes or hand towels, taking anything out of the hotel room amounts to a punishable offence,” said Dr Varrey.
Hotel stay etiquette
- ■ Always remember your hotel is an extension of your home. Try to maintain as much decorum and neatness as you would in your home
- ■ It is acceptable to keep a couple of very small souvenirs — like a soap or shampoo available in your bathroom that the housekeeping puts in there anticipating your toliette needs. If that is left you could keep a couple to remember the hotel by. Anything beyond that would be an offense
- ■ You might want to leave the room a shade more untidy than you would normally at home, that is fine. However make sure you do not damage property like dent the wall, or scratch the wood surfaces. if you do it is better to inform the hotel staff in case you want to be a regular.
- ■ If you do like a bathrobe, papeweight or piece of linen, it is better to approach the manager and let him know. Usually if it is inexpensive and you are regular customer the hotel will gift it to you. If the article you like is expensive, find out the price and get it added to your bill.
- ■ Always be transparent about your intentions to the hotel staff. They usually have a fair idea of your profile when you book in and would know your personality type. Treat them as members of your extended family and the room as extension of your home, if you want people to respect you and look forward to a return to the property. If you are willing to go a few yards in courtesy, the hotel will go a mile in extending its warm hospitality to you.