I stole a laundry bag from the Alvear Palace Hotel in Buenos Aires. It was made of thick ivory linen, embroidered with the words “dry cleaning” in cerulean blue, and looked like something that I could have found at an antique textiles show. But that wasn’t the case.
I’m usually pretty scrupulous about purloined souvenirs. Of course, I help myself to soap and shampoo, sewing kits, even those black sponges meant to spruce up your shoes—oh, and ballpoint pens and darling little notepads. But the laundry bag was my first sojourn into the land of, what shall we call it...outright theft?
How widespread is this brand of petty larceny?A brief survey of my acquaintances—a glass of wine, or three, helped them remember—reveals that B. (names are omitted for patently obvious reasons) spends an inordinate amount of time at her favorite inn in St. Bart’s hoarding the Hermès soap (using the same one for the sink and tub and then pilfering the other), and K. became so addicted to the slippers at the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg that she now begs peripatetic friends to bring back their extra pairs. Both of these tales were recounted in voices dripping with shame—which, it turns out, was entirely uncalled for.
The truth is that even the most parsimonious innkeepers want you to take their grooming products and paper goods home, the thinking being that every time you use an item that bears the hotel’s name you’ll remember what a wonderful time you had there and plan another visit (and not just to take more stuff). At the supercool Chic & Basic budget hotels in Amsterdam and Barcelona, the owners even anticipate guests’ illicit impulses: their toiletries read, “This is the cutest soap that you will steal from a hotel. Enjoy it.” and “Amazing quality shower gel rarely found as hotel amenity.”
François Delahaye, general manager of Paris’s Hôtel Plaza Athénée, confirms that the shampoo, shower gel, slippers, of course, and even ashtrays (remember those?) are good to go. Delahaye says anything with the hotel’s moniker is extra-desirable. “If you want it stolen, put your logo on it,” he tells me. Usually, he says, hotels shrug off minor light-fingeredness—it’s just part of the cost of doing business. But sometimes it gets on even his steady nerves. Lately, he says, there has been such an epidemic of filched silver tea strainers that “it’s become a nuisance.” At least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor. He chuckles as he recounts the tale of the absconded umbrellas. Like all good hotels, the Plaza Athénée provides parasols for rainy days. At one time, they were not for sale, but that didn’t prevent them from regularly showing up on eBay. (The hotel, noting this flourishing secondary market, now sells these brollies for $46.) Okay, François, what about my laundry bag?Was my misdeed really so awfully naughty?Silence, then a most surprising confession: turns out that way back in the day, Delahaye once helped himself to a laundry bag at a Rosewood hotel. This mischief, though hardly sanctioned by the property, had the desired effect. “Whenever I use it,” Delahaye says, “I’m thinking about that Rosewood.”
Lifting laundry bags is nefarious enough, but it’s hardly world-class in the hotel-theft department. For that we must turn to the notorious saga of the bad, bad girl who told me in hushed tones that, while she was staying in a room with two beds at the Setai in Miami, she proceeded to carefully remove the Christian Fischbacher satin sheets from the unused bed, then meticulously remake it so as not to alert housekeeping. Or there’s the story of the Kiton-suited banker who never met a wooden shoe tree he didn’t like enough to take back with him to Park Avenue.