Saturday, February 11, 2012


[T]here is no real need for gharries [a gharry was a horse-drawn carriage, used in Egypt and India as a cab, in which the horses were hideously abused] and rickshaws; they only exist because Orientals consider it vulgar to walk. They are luxuries, and, as anyone who has ridden in them knows, very poor luxuries. They afford a small amount of convenience, which cannot possibly balance the suffering of the men and animals.

photo: National Geographic

Similarly with the plongeur [dishwasher in a fancy French restaurant , a job at which Orwell describes toiling away, in sixteen-hour shifts, for weeks]. He is a king compared with a rickshaw puller or a gharry pony, but his case is analogous. He is the slave of a hotel or a restaurant, and his slavery is more or less useless. For, after all, where is the real need of big hotels and smart restaurants? They are supposed to provide luxury, but in reality they provide only a cheap, shoddy imitation of it. Nearly everyone hates hotels. Some restaurants are better than others, but it is impossible to get as good a meal in a restaurant as one can get, for the same expense, in a private house. No doubt hotels and restaurants must exist, but there is no need that they should enslave hundreds of people. What makes the work in them is not the essentials; it is the shams that are supposed to represent luxury. Smartness, as it is called, means, in effect, merely that the staff work more and the customers pay more; no one benefits except the proprietor, who will presently buy himself a striped villa at Deauville. Essentially, a ‘smart’ hotel is a place where a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things they do not really want. If the nonsense were cut out of hotels and restaurants, and the work done with simple efficiency, plongeurs might work six or eight hours a day instead often or fifteen…

photo: courtesy Restaurant-ing through history
 Fear of the mob is a superstitious fear. It is based on the idea that there is some mysterious, fundamental difference between rich and poor, as though they were two different races, like negroes and white men. But in reality there is no such difference. The mass of the rich and poor are differentiated by their incomes and nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit. Change places, and handy dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief? Everyone who has mixed on equal terms with the poor knows this quite well. But the trouble is that intelligent, cultivated people, the very people who might be expected to have liberal opinions, never do mix with the poor. For what do the majority of educated people know about poverty? In my copy of Villon's poems the editor has actually thought it necessary to explain the line "Ne pain ne voyent qu'aux fenestres" "[["The poor] do not see bread except through windows”] by a footnote; so remote is even hunger from the educated man's experience. From this ignorance a superstitious fear of the mob results quite naturally. The educated man pictures a horde of submen, wanting only a day's liberty to loot his house, burn his books, and set him to work minding a machine or sweeping out a lavatory. "Anything," he thinks, "any injustice, sooner than let that mob loose." He does not see that since there is no difference between the mass of rich and poor, there is no question of setting the mob loose. The mob is in fact loose now, and--in the shape of rich men--is using its power to set up enormous treadmills of boredom, such as "smart" hotels.

--George Orwell, from Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933



  1. Once when I was applying for a duplicate Social Security Number, I looked around me, and noticed that every kind of person was there with me, The maid, the golfer straight from the Country Club, Teenagers, and I kind of laughed thinking that THIS would be EXACTLY like the Day of Judgement or better yet Purgatory. No one gets to pull rank, Everyone has to wait in line... You can complain all you want, but it won't help you get there any sooner...LOL

  2. Well, observed, George Orwell and well selected, Heather. This succinct piece points to the truth that what we value is so often a shoddy pretense of what's real. Its a challenge to be able to discern this in everyday life. Think of a cabbage, an apple, a bag of potatoes; that's value exchanged for your money. Think of junk food - that's valueless trash exchanged for your money. I see it in food, not always in other things!

    God's values are so unlike our own. We get seduced into believing the world's edificies and pretences. Lord, open my eyes to see things the way you see them, and to value what You value, and then to LIVE accordingly.

  3. I guess the praise is by implied contrast. Since Motel 6 is a no-frills place, it doesn't enslave anyone? Then I suppose Walmart deserves the same praise....

  4. I love George Orwell. We just read his "Why I Write" for our Memoir class and I felt that he was channelling me--much more so than Didion.

  5. I love George Orwell.. Do read his "Why I Write" if you havent'....

  6. No, Chip, the point isn't that no-frills doesn't often enslave as well--as I said on FB, "Of course Orwell's not so much anti-rich people as anti-passing judgment on people whose plight you can't possibly understand...of which I, for one, am guilty all the time...

    On the other hand, I've also been reading A.J. Liebling on food and he laments the passing of a certain kind of great French restaurant because "Child labor laws and compulsory education were...obstacles in the way of the early apprenticeship that forms great cooks. One of the last of the Fratellini family of clowns, an old man, made a television address in Paris a few years ago in which he blamed the same conjunction of circumstances for the dearth of good young circus clowns. 'When i was a child, my father, bless him, broke my legs so that I would walk comically, as a clown should,' the old man said (I approximate his remarks from memory). 'Now there are people who would take a poor view of that sort of thing.'"

    Which is kind of funny and kind of horrifying, but does point up that nothing truly great is created except by someone getting temporarily or permanently "maimed"...think of childbirth....

    There IS something great about a great hotel,and a great clown, and a great old French the point, too, is that, as always, we live in paradox...


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