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On my third day at the hotel the CHEF DU PERSONNEL, who had generally
spoken to me in quite a pleasant tone, called me up and said sharply:
'Here, you, shave that moustache off at once! NOM DE DIEU, who ever
heard of a PLONGEUR with a moustache?'
I began to protest, but he cut me short. 'A PLONGEUR with a moustache
--nonsense! Take care I don't see you with it tomorrow.'
On the way home I asked Boris what this meant. He shrugged his
shoulders. 'You must do what he says, MON AMI. No one in the hotel wears a
moustache, except the cooks. I should have thought you would have noticed
it. Reason? There is no reason. It is the custom.'
I saw that it was an etiquette, like not wearing a white tie with a
dinner-jacket, and shaved off my moustache. Afterwards I found out the
explanation of the custom, which is this: waiters in good hotels do not
wear moustaches, and to show their superiority they decree that PLONGEURS
shall not wear them either; and the cooks wear their moustaches to show
their contempt for the waiters.
This gives some idea of the elaborate caste system existing in a
hotel. Our staff, amounting to about a hundred and ten, had their prestige
graded as accurately as that of soldiers, and a cook or waiter was as much
above a PLONGEUR as a captain above a private. Highest of all came the
manager, who could sack anybody, even the cooks. We never saw the PATRON,
and all we knew of him was that his meals had to be prepared more carefully
than that of the customers; all the discipline of the hotel depended on the
manager. He was a conscientious man, and always on the lookout for
slackness, but we were too clever for him. A system of service bells ran
through the hotel, and the whole staff used these for signalling to one
another. A long ring and a short ring, followed by two more long rings,
meant that the manager was coming, and when we heard it we took care to
Below the manager came the MAITRE D'HOTEL. He did not serve at table,
unless to a lord or someone of that kind, but directed the other waiters
and helped with the catering. His tips, and his bonus from the champagne
companies (it was two francs for each cork he returned to them), came to
two hundred francs a day. He was in a position quite apart from the rest of
the staff, and took his meals in a private room, with silver on the table
and two apprentices in clean white jackets to serve him. A little below the
head waiter came the head cook, drawing about five thousand francs a month;
he dined in the kitchen, but at a separate table, and one of the apprentice
cooks waited on him. Then came the CHEF DU PERSONNEL; he drew only fifteen
hundred francs a month, but he wore a black coat and did no manual work,
and he could sack PLONGEURS and fine waiters. Then came the other cooks,
drawing anything between three thousand and seven hundred and fifty ^
francs a month; then the waiters, making about seventy francs a day in
tips, besides a small retaining fee; then the laundresses and sewing women;
then the apprentice waiters, who received no tips, but were paid seven
hundred and fifty francs a month; then the PLONGEURS, also at seven hundred
and fifty francs; then the chambermaids, at five or six hundred francs a
month; and lastly the cafetiers, at five hundred a month. We of the
cafeterie were the very dregs of the hotel, despised and TUTOIED by
There were various others--the office employees, called generally
couriers, the storekeeper, the cellarman, some porters and pages, the ice
man, the bakers, the night-watchman, the doorkeeper. Different jobs were
done by different races. The office employees and the cooks and
sewing-women were French, the waiters Italians and Germans (there is hardly
such a thing as a French waiter in Paris), the PLONGEURS of every race in
Europe, beside Arabs and Negroes. French was the lingua franca, even the
Italians speaking it to one another.
All the departments had their special perquisites. In all Paris hotels
it is the custom to sell the broken bread to bakers for eight sous a pound,
and the kitchen scraps to pigkeepers for a trifle, and to divide the
proceeds of this among the PLONGEURS. There was much pilfering, too. The
waiters all stole food--in fact, I seldom saw a waiter trouble to eat the
rations provided for him by the hotel--and the cooks did it on a larger
scale in the kitchen, and we in the cafeterie swilled illicit tea and
coffee. The cellarman stole brandy. By a rule of the hotel the waiters were
not allowed to keep stores of spirits, but had to go to the cellarman for
each drink as it was ordered. As the cellarman poured out the drinks he
would set aside perhaps a teaspoonful from each glass, and he amassed
quantities in this way. He would sell you the stolen brandy for five sous a
swig if he thought he could trust you.
There were thieves among the staff, and if you left money in your coat
pockets it was generally taken. The doorkeeper, who paid our wages and
searched us for stolen food, was the greatest thief in the hotel. Out of my
five hundred francs a month, this man actually managed to cheat me of a
hundred and fourteen francs in six weeks. I had asked to be paid daily, so
the doorkeeper paid me sixteen francs each evening, and, by not paying for
Sundays (for which of course payment was due), pocketed sixty-four francs.
Also, I sometimes worked on a Sunday, for which, though I did not know it,
I was entitled to an extra twenty-five francs. The doorkeeper never paid me
this either, and so made away with another seventy-five francs. I only
realized during my last week that I was being cheated, and, as I could
prove nothing, only twenty-five francs were refunded. The doorkeeper played
similar tricks on any employee who was fool enough to be taken in. He
called himself a Greek, but in reality he was an Armenian. After knowing
him I saw the force of the proverb 'Trust a snake before a Jew and a Jew
before a Greek, but don't trust an Armenian.'
There were queer characters among the waiters. One was a gentleman--
a youth who had been educated at a university, and had had a well-paid job
in a business office. He had caught a venereal disease, lost his job,
drifted, and now considered himself lucky to be a waiter. Many of the
waiters had slipped into France without passports, and one or two of them
were spies--it is a common profession for a spy to adopt. One day there
was a fearful row in the waiters' dining-room between Morandi, a
dangerous-looking man with eyes set too far apart, and another Italian. It
appeared that Morandi had taken the other man's mistress. The other man, a
weakling and obviously frightened of Morandi, was threatening vaguely.
Morandi jeered at him. 'Well, what are you going to do about it? I've
slept with your girl, slept with her three times. It was fine. What can you
'I can denounce you to the secret police. You are an Italian spy.'
Morandi did not deny it. He simply produced a razor from his tail
pocket and made two swift strokes in the air, as though slashing a man's
cheeks open. Whereat the other waiter took it back.
The queerest type I ever saw in the hotel was an 'extra'. He had been
engaged at twenty-five francs for the day to replace the Magyar, who was
ill. He was a Serbian, a thick-set nimble fellow of about twenty-five,
speaking six languages, including English. He seemed to know all about
hotel work, and up till midday he worked like a slave. Then, as soon as it
had struck twelve, he turned sulky, shirked Us work, stole wine, and
finally crowned all by loafing about openly with a pipe in his mouth.
Smoking, of course, was forbidden under severe penalties. The manager
himself heard of it and came down to interview the Serbian, fuming with
'What the devil do you mean by smoking here?' he cried.
'What the devil do you mean by having a face like that?' answered the
I cannot convey the blasphemy of such a remark. The head cook, if a
PLONGEUR had spoken to him like that, would have thrown a saucepan of hot
soup in his face. The manager said instantly, 'You're sacked!' and at two
o'clock the Serbian was given his twenty-five francs and duly sacked.
Before he went out Boris asked him in Russian what game he was playing. He
said the Serbian answered:
'Look here, MON VIEUX, they've got to pay me a day's wages if I work
up to midday, haven't they? That's the law. And where's the sense of
working after I get my wages? So I'll tell you what I do. I go to a hotel
and get a job as an extra, and up to midday I work hard. Then, the moment
it's struck twelve, I start raising such hell that they've no choice but to
sack me. Neat, eh? Most days I'm sacked by half past twelve; today it was
two o'clock; but I don't care, I've saved four hours' work. The only
trouble is, one can't do it at the same hotel twice.'
It appeared that he had played this game at half the hotels and
restaurants in Paris. It is probably quite an easy game to play during the
summer, though the hotels protect themselves against it as well as they can
by means of a black list.