In his superb book Maximum City, Suketu Mehta has an insightful passage about the challenge of
entering The Taj hotel in Mumbai:
[The Taj] is less a hotel than a proving ground for the ego. The Taj lobby and
its adjoining toilets are where you test your self-worth; theoretically, anyone
can come in out of the heat and sit in the plush lobby, on the ornate sofas,
amid the billionaire Arabs and the society ladies, or relieve themselves in the
gleaming toilets. But you need that inner confidence to project to the numerous
gatekeepers, the toilet attendants; you need first to convince yourself that you
belong there, in order to convince others that you do. And then you realize that
the most forbidding gatekeeper is within you. [Link]
Very true, but you may need more than inner confidence to get into some hotels. You may also need the right attire and skin color, even if you happen to be a person of great achievement, even if you happen to have won the Nobel Peace Prize.
She was wearing a Mayan dress, the traditional attire of indigenous
people in central America, and the hotel’s response was also
traditional: throw her out.
Staff at Cancun’s five-star Hotel Coral
Beach appear to have assumed this was another street vendor or beggar,
so without asking questions they ordered her to leave. Except the woman
was Rigoberta Menchú, the Nobel peace prizewinner, Unesco goodwill
ambassador, Guatemalan presidential candidate and figurehead for
The attempted eviction, an example of discrimination against indigenous
people common in central and south America, backfired when other guests
recognised Ms Menchú and interceded on her behalf.
The human rights activist was in the Mexican coastal resort at the
request of President Felipe Calderón to participate in a conference on
drinking water and sanitation and was due to give interviews at the
Just before the attempted eviction, the manager gave a call to the doorman:
Manager: "Manuel, Senora Menchú will be arriving soon. Make sure you
give her the royal treatment. Did you get some flowers for her?"
Doorman: "Not yet, Senor. I will get them as soon as I get rid of this street woman."
Manager: "Street woman?"
Doorman: "Yes, Senor, she claims she was invited here by President Calderón. I told her she’s crazy. She says she’s …"
Manager: "You idiot! Senora Menchú was invited here by President Calderón! You know what that means?"
Doorman: "Yes, of course I do, Senor. It means that Senora Menchú is very, very important."
Manager: "No, you idiot! It means President Calderón will be very
upset if he hears you were talking to a street woman instead of
preparing for Senora Menchú’s arrival."