Friday, October 1, 2010

Inane comments left by strangers in cyberspace...

I write reviews on Epinions and other Web sites.  I do it mostly for fun, but also for money.  My writing has earned me some recognition and I enjoy doing it, especially when I get positive reinforcement in the form of a nice comment.  However, there is a flip side to positive reinforcement... and that comes in the form of nasty comments by random, anonymous readers. 

About a year ago, my husband and I stayed in a government run hotel in Germany.  We didn't stay there because we wanted to.  We stayed there because we were on government business in the form of a move.  I wasn't too happy about the move because it was coming a year early.  I also wasn't very happy about having to stay in that particular hotel, because it was way out in BFE and very inconvenient.  Nevertheless, we stayed for four nights, along with our two pooches, one of whom was dying of prostate cancer.

Granted, I wasn't in the best frame of mind regarding this particular hotel stay, but I did end up having some of what I thought were legitimate complaints.  And, well, I like to have fun with my reviews if I can.  It's not too often that I write negative reviews, but I'm not shy about leaving them if I think a product deserves it.  So I proceeded to write a negative review of this government run hotel.  For about a year, all was well.  Below is my review...

Pros: Lots of family friendly amenities... I guess. Pet friendly. Free laundry.
Cons: Horrible bed. Annoying toilet and shower. Tacky furnishings. Indifferent customer service.
God willing, my husband Bill and I, along with our two beagles, Flea and MacGregor, will be checking into a hotel in or near Atlanta, Georgia tomorrow afternoon. After spending the past few days at the Hilltop Hotel at Robinson Barracks near Stuttgart, Germany, I can't say I'm sorry to be switching venues. In fact, I think I would have been happy to switch venues within Germany, if we'd only had a choice in the matter.

A captive audience

Hilltop Hotel is a hotel specifically for people who have business with the U.S. government within the Stuttgart area. It's located on Robinson Barracks, which is a U.S. government installation; therefore, the general public can't access this hotel. On the other hand, military and government employees must use the Hilltop Hotel and other government run facilities if there is space available. The Stuttgart area currently has three such facilities; a fourth one is under construction. When Bill and I first came to Germany two years ago, the three government run hotels in Stuttgart were booked solid, so we spent six weeks living in a German hotel very close to where Bill worked.

When it came time for us to leave, there was space available on the "pet floor" at Hilltop Hotel. I was not too pleased about this development, mainly because Robinson Barracks is located quite a distance away from the other three military posts in the Stuttgart area. Robinson Barracks is a pretty area, but it mostly consists of housing, an elementary and middle school, a post office, and a small "CX", which is a combined commissary and post exchange. There is a bus that runs to the other installations, all of which are at least 30 minutes away. Unfortunately, I have two dogs, and they're not allowed to ride the bus.  Our cars are currently on different ships bound for the USA.

Our room

Bill and I checked into the Hilltop Hotel on Tuesday, September 8th. I was in a foul mood because we'd been working all day to clean up our German house. I was tired, sore, and hungry. We took the elevator to the fourth floor, where all the other pet owners are assigned, and took a stroll to room 404. My mood worsened when we opened the door and I got a look at the bed we'd all be sharing. Covered with a cheap floral spread, the bed looked pretty small. It's supposedly a queen, but really felt more like a full... especially with our two beagles on board.

I looked around the room and took everything else in. There was a wall unit with a microwave, coffee maker, small refrigerator, television, DVD/VCR player, and a telephone (which didn't seem to work very well). The television carried local German channels, as well as Armed Forces Network (AFN) satellite channels, a couple of BBC channels, and a few other British stations. Curiously, there was one channel that appeared to be Polish and aired Polish commercials, yet broadcasted programming in English. There was also a DSL connection located near the TV. A cord reached the small, beat up desk located next to the door.  A small clock radio sat on the desk, while a safe, iron, and ironing board were located in the closet. A ceiling fan capably circulated the air and made the tight bed space a little more bearable.

The rooms at the Hilltop Hotel have a lot of storage space, probably because a lot of people end up spending weeks at this hotel as they do temporary work in the Stuttgart area or wait for housing.  Because we were in a "pet room", our room was not carpeted. Instead, it had a faux wood-like floor covering. Actually, I liked that, since the lack of carpeting was easier on my allergies.  The decor is strictly early 80s "country" style... cheap, tacky, and kind of depressing.

The bathroom

The bathroom had a shower, sink, a hairdryer, and a toilet. Housekeeping had thoughtfully left us a little basket of cheap toiletries with soap, shampoo, and lotion. A small mending kit came in handy when I found a splinter in my finger. When we first checked in, there was only one full sized towel in the bathroom.

I found using the shower and the toilet rather annoying for different reasons. Though the shower had excellent water pressure, it also had a small seat in it that cut down on the space available for standing up. Every time I took a shower, my elbow hit the tap, inadvertently knocking it either to an unacceptably hotter or colder temperature. I found the toilet annoying because of the way the bowl was shaped. Unlike the usual "shelf-style" toilets one finds in Europe, this toilet seemed to be rather shallow and narrow. Consequently, every time I took a dump, I had to use the toilet brush to scrub the residue from the side of the bowl where it would invariably end up sticking in a disgusting splatter.

Sleep

Bill and I found the bed in our room very uncomfortable. We are used to sleeping in a king sized bed, so the bed felt very small to us. But even if it had been a king sized bed, the mattress felt too hard. Consequently, my back was killing me for the duration of our stay.  I think this problem was also exacerbated by the horrible chair at the desk, which was very uncomfortable and not particularly functional.

Eats

There is no restaurant on-site, though there is one next to the hotel that is open five days a week. Breakfast is included with the room and is served in the lobby. It's typical continental fare-- bagels, muffins, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, juice, coffee, and hot chocolate. Be careful to look before you eat. Bill opened one carton of yogurt and found a couple of spots of penicillin growing on the lid.

The restaurant next to the Hilltop Hotel serves edible food to go. The best meal we had from there was the roasted half chicken with fries. However, we had a couple of less tasty meals from there, too. One night, Bill brought me what appeared to be a "fish and chips" inspired meal. The fish looked like it had been baked to the point of almost being burnt on the bottom, then frozen. It was still pretty cold in the middle when it was served.

Other facilities

One nice thing about the Hilltop Hotel is that there's a laundry room on the ground floor. There are five or six washers and dryers and they can be used free of charge. A vending machine dispenses laundry detergent, fabric softener, snacks, and drinks, as well.  In the lobby, there are books, videos, and DVDs available to borrow.  I also heard a rumor that Lifecycle exercise equipment was available in the hotel, but I never sought it out.

There's a little outdoor area next to the hotel where folks can smoke or have a little picnic. Each floor has a kitchen, though one must go to the front desk for a key. There's a storage area in the bottom of the hotel where guests are encouraged to store excess luggage. And parking is free.

Service

I thought the housekeeping service did a good job. We didn't ask them to service our room every day. On the days we did have them clean, they did a thorough job. At the very least, they emptied our trash cans every day and exchanged our towels.

I thought the service at the front desk was less impressive. First off, Bill was supposed to pay up front for our stay. When he tried to take care of that, the clerk had computer problems. The next morning, he went down to pay, and the clerk charged him the wrong amount. A different clerk seemed to have a terminally sour disposition. When my key card stopped working one afternoon, I went to the desk with my dogs to get some help. The sour clerk was on the phone and refused to acknowledge me, until my dogs started freaking out at the sight of other dogs. He shot me a dirty look. I shot one right back to him. It was only at that point that he got someone to help me. When Bill tried to call me, he asked that particular clerk to connect him to our room. The guy ended up hanging up on him instead. Only one of the three clerks we encountered was truly helpful and good natured.

Prices

Most people who stay at the Hilltop Hotel are there on the government's dime and paying the current per diem rate. The government is paying $68 per night for us to stay in our double room. There are also a couple of extra charges for pets. We had to pay a "deep cleaning" fee of $30 for our room on the pet floor (the fee is higher for carpeted rooms on the lower levels). Each pet also costs an extra $3 a day.  Both key cards have to be turned in at check out.  Losing a key card results in a $20 fee, which I think is totally ridiculous.

Auf Wiedersehen

I really wish our last few days in Germany could have been spent in a nicer and more authentic hotel. I think the Hilltop Hotel could use a little refurbishing and shudder at the idea of having to live there for weeks on end. Alas, like so many others, Bill and I are at the mercy of the U.S. government when we travel on government business. Thankfully, the lodging at our new post in Atlanta doesn't allow dogs, so we get to stay in a Hilton. Hopefully, we will find a new home quickly and start settling in... at least until our next move.

For more information: http://www.stuttgart.army.mil/sites/about/hilltophotel.asp

FYI: The Hilltop Hotel has now mercifully closed.

Then, the other day, I ran across a comment left last week for me by some random person out there in cyberspace.  This person disagreed with my negative review, having stayed at the same property back in 2004.  I'm going to assume the writer was a woman, based on the person's writing style.  She took issue with the complaints I had and accused me of being a snob because I didn't like the furnishings in the room.  I felt they were cheap, dated, and tacky and said so.  Okay, so there's no accounting for taste.  On the other hand, why shouldn't I have a voice?    

The comment originally made me really mad... so I left this really long rant of a comment.  But even though at first I felt pretty good about that rant, it just seemed too angry to me.  I didn't think it would leave a good impression with other people and, as angry as I was, I knew the whole situation was pretty ridiculous.  So I revised my response thusly...  My comments are italicized while the original commenter's are in bold.

Wow... I'll be honest. When I first read your comment, it really made me mad. But I've calmed down now, so allow me to take a few minutes to address your points.

To complain about the furnishings is a bit snobbish. The toilet seat issue and the shower being too small...

My complaint about the shower wasn't that it was too small. It was that there was a seat in it that took up space and made it difficult to take a shower. My husband and I are both short, average sized Americans and we both had the same complaint about the shower. As for the toilet, my comment wasn't that the seat was too small, it was that the toilet was too shallow. I have never seen a toilet like the one at the Hilltop Hotel and it was a consistent issue for us.

It surprises me that you think I'm a snob for expecting a basic level of comfort in a hotel, even if the government is paying the tab.

wow...I'll be nice!

Your comment wasn't in any way nice, though I do appreciate that you didn't elect to add more undeserved snark to it.

I have been around the military for 20 years.

So what? I've been around the military for my entire 38 years of life. That doesn't make either of our experiences any more valid than another person's. Everybody's different.

I have always seen those who are spoiled by our American ways, to be the first to complain. Come on now...this isn't the Hilton...

Oh, so now you're assuming that I'm a spoiled American, just because you've seen a few of them in your day? You don't even know me. It so happens I've lived in three different countries, twice with the military, and once as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was in the third group to go to where my Peace Corps assignment was, so it definitely wasn't cushy "American style" living. We had no electricity during my first year, and though I was lucky enough to have running water, a lot of my colleagues did not. I spent two years heating up bath water in a metal bucket on a kerosene heater, doing my laundry by hand, and reading novels by the light of an oil lamp. So yeah, I know very well that not every hotel is like a Hilton.

And the fact that the government is paying is irrelevant, especially given the fact that the government wasn't doing us a favor in this regard. We stayed at the Hilltop Hotel because the government was forcing us to move, not because we were on a vacation. For $68 a night plus pet expenses, I certainly do expect that the furnishings will be somewhat up-to-date and comfortable, or at least utilitarian. That you would actually chastise me for expecting American style accommodations when, in fact, I was staying in an American run hotel is especially ironic. I probably would have been much happier if we had been in a German hotel.

the governments paying, why are you complaining??

Why aren't you using basic proper English grammar and capitalization? Didn't you go to elementary school?

I realize most people are trying to profit from their reinbursement...if thats the case, then sorry for you.

This is an extremely offensive and totally baseless remark. While it may be true that some military folks try to profit off of per diem TDY payments, my husband and I aren't in that category of people. But even if we were, it would neither be your business nor your place to make this comment. The fact is, a lot of people in the military use that extra money to make ends meet. It's certainly not up to you to criticize them for doing that.

You made your stay miserable because you expected everything to be like America.

I beg your pardon? Who are you, Sylvia Browne? Again, you don't even know me. You don't know what my expectations or experiences are. You don't know what the circumstances were during our stay. What a thoughtless remark this is.

Did you venture out to eat?

How could I? We had a rental car and my husband was using it for work purposes. And the hotel is not exactly close to the gates of Robinson Barracks.

There are so many wonderful restaurants in the area...some right there in the vineyards and they allow dogs inside!!

There are wonderful restaurants in Germany? No kidding! I lived in Germany on the economy for two years and had many opportunities to dine in some excellent locally run restaurants. But during my stay at the Hilltop Hotel, I had my dogs with me. While some dogs do great in public places, mine do not. Moreover, one of my dogs at the time was dying of prostate cancer and wasn't up to hanging out with us in a restaurant.

I did stay in the room with my dogs, but it wasn't because I had an attitude problem. It was because I did not want to leave them alone to bark and howl. I felt it would be inconsiderate to do that because I knew it was likely they would disturb other people in the hotel. But, according to you, I'm an ugly American and a snob because I was dismayed that there wasn't a good restaurant nearby where I could get a good meal and still stay with my dogs to prevent them from bothering others. If I had gone out to eat and let them howl, I bet you would have chastised me for doing that, too.

I prefer diving right into the local culture...it makes the stay so much more fun...

So do I. And believe me, the three times I've lived in other countries, I dove into the local culture and surrounding cultures with relish. I learned a lot and now I make money writing about my experiences. I certainly don't need you to preach to me about this.

and who cares about the size of the toilet, the bed, the old beat up desk....

I do. And so do a lot of other travelers, especially when they're spending their own money on a place to stay and/or having to do business. Since I make money as a writer, a decent desk is important to me.


Moreover, a lot of people have read my review of this particular property, which leads me to believe that many people want to know what they'll be getting for their money at the Hilltop Hotel. I'm surprised you're not among them... or maybe you are? How else would you have found this review?

those things wouldn't matter if you didn't sit in your room and pout about them.

And once again, you're making an incorrect assumption about what I did, how I feel, and what kind of person I am. Let me remind you again that you don't know me. Please stop acting as if you do. It's giving me the creeps!

***
Since you've elected to leave me such a didactic comment, allow me to leave one for you. In your attempt to shame and belittle me for writing truthfully about my negative experiences at the Hilltop Hotel, you come off as a complete busybody... you know, the type I've often run into in my days as an Army wife. Wait-- you're not one of those? Pardon me.


If I were to judge you solely based on your comments here, I might guess you are not very well educated, a bit of a gossip, and never actually ventured very far beyond the gates of the American bases in Germany... But, in fact, I don't actually know you, so it would be terribly unfair of me to make that assumption about you, wouldn't it? Especially since my assessment of you based on your comment might very well be incorrect.

I can see that you're a driveby, so I don't expect you'll ever read this comment, let alone respond to it; but I do think your incredibly condescending attitude is very unfair and every bit as snotty as you claim my review is. Believe me, if we'd had the choice to stay somewhere more conducive to our needs, we certainly would have. And then I never would have felt the need to write this review and make this unfortunate and hopefully brief connection with you.

The next time you feel inclined to offer such personal comments about a complete stranger, I hope you'll take a minute to think about it and focus on what the person said, not on what kind of person you think they are. And then, by all means, feel free to f*ck right off.

Have a nice life.
 
Sigh... I do feel better now.

4 comments:

  1. Umm-??
    That seems like an AWFUL lot of time and energy to spend on responding to comments by - as you point out- someone you don't even know/who doesn't know you.
    Honestly made my head spin:(

    You seem like a nice woman. Why waste your words and your time??Who cares what they think?
    I'm rem.inded of the saying" When you argue with fools...."(you risk looking like one):S
    Just sayin....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hiya Knotty,
    I was tempted to check the 'funny' button, but I guess I was looking more for the 'incredulous' button instead. :oP That's a downside of internet comments, it seems... The anonymity it allows makes it easy for people to let their Mr. Hyde side out.

    We get a lot of that from supposedly sophisticated opera fans on youtube opera clips. It still amazes me sometimes how some people can presume to deduce so much into an opera singer's personal life just by listening to a 2 minutes clip of her singing an aria as an opera character. :oP

    Sometimes we all have gotta vent a little... Just like Visuvius or Etna or St. Helena... so that we can look serene and beautiful the rest of the time (that's my excuse, anyhow). ;o)

    ReplyDelete
  3. This post was not really meant to be about the inane commenter as much as it was about how I processed the comment. I don't usually "go off" in comments the way I did with that Epinions commenter. I think what set me off is that she (I'm assuming it was a "she") came across like some of the stereotypical spouses I used to run into a lot when I lived on an Army post. To be frank, I don't really fit in that well as an Army wife, even though I grew up a military brat.

    Anyway, the Epinions poster's comment was just very personal and insulting and yes, very presumptuous. And yet, I get the feeling she really was trying to be "helpful" and edifying. So I decided to respond in an over-the-top way, even with the knowledge that she would probably never come back to read what I had to say. I have to admit, it was actually kind of fun to respond to her, even if the more adult reaction would have been to just let her stupidity stand for itself.

    Oddly enough, this particular blog post has mostly been ignored until just a few days ago... when yet again, someone felt strongly enough about it to join Blogger just to set me straight on MY blog, no less! Hey... it's my time, my energy, and my image on the line. If I want to go off on someone, that's my business, right? In all seriousness, I am grateful when people read my blog and leave comments, especially since this blog is mostly me blowing off steam.

    ReplyDelete

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