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The Authoritarian Hostel Manager

A case of abuse of power and extremely poor customer service.

2007- S. Hein


Last night in a hostel in Amsterdam the night manager came into our room at 3 AM to make sure everyone sleeping there was registered. I will not tell all the details right now but I was so bothered by how he treated two young backpackers that I got out of bed and protested. He was acting very authoritarian with them, and then with me. He woke up at least ten people and showed almost no respect for anyone there.

When I confronted him he tried to get me to look at a sign with the hostel rules. I had already seen it and knew what it said, but what he was doing was completely unnecessary to ensure the spirit of the rules was being carried out. 

He is an example of someone who abuses the power given to them in an organization. He seems to believe that just because there is a paper with a list of rules, he has the right to treat people in an authoritarian, disrespectful way, with no regard for either their feelings or their natural human needs - even such basic and innocent needs as the need to sleep.

One person told me in the morning that she thought someone was being arrested. His behavior reminds me of a video I saw of an American police officer handcuffing a 15 year old girl for violating a curfew law. The officer kept repeating "Put your hands behind your back!" in a robotic way. 

The hostel employee was not using his judgment as he was doing his job. Or if so I can only say that he has a severe lack of it.

For example, he ordered one backpacker to change beds simply because he was not in the assigned bed. I understand that it is not a good feeling to come to your bed and find out that someone else is in it, but I have never seen such a blatant abuse of power in a hostel before in my life. Last night there was no justifiable reason for forcing the backpacker to change beds at three in the morning. No one had been complaining. There were enough beds for everyone, and in fact there was even an extra bed available.

Managers or employees like this are not an asset to an organization. They drive away customers, clients and guests.

I spoke with the owner of the hostel this morning and he agreed that his employee had gone past the limit of what was necessary to keep people from sneaking into the hostel where they might either take someone's bed or steal their things. This is Amsterdam, after all. He thanked me and said he would talk to the employee. The owner seemed sincere in his appreciation and intention.

I may write more about this later but I want to post this much now.  I will just add that this is a reminder to me that I want to use the power of my website to help change things in the world. I want to help fight such abuses of power, small and large, wherever I encounter them.   I would feel very good if one day my site was first when someone searched on the words "Abuse of power". (note below)

I want to make the world a safer place for the sensitive young people who normally would be intimidated by someone like this employee. I was not intimidated by him last night. Later, I wondered later why I felt so sure of myself in challenging him. I wondered where my own "authority" to challenge his authority came from. I thought of a religious story of someone asking Jesus where his authority came from. (After a little searching I found a story where Jesus wouldn't answer. - moved to religion orig file)

As I have thought about this more, I realized that my "authority" comes from within me. It comes from my intelligence, both cognitive and emotional, and my experience. Not from my status in an any organization and not from any appointments by anyone. I resent people who abuse the authority given to them by others when they have done little to deserve it except obey the rules long enough -- much as a person would receive power in the former Soviet Union. This might seem like a strong comparison, but only until one has spent sufficient time away from their own culture and outside of any form of organization or bureaucracy.

S. Hein
Oct 23, 2007


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