How often across the course of a week do you find yourself asking, “Has the world gone completely bonkers or is it just me?”
For the past three weeks I’ve been on a round-the-world tour that’s been 70 per cent work and 30 per cent holiday – advertising meetings in Tokyo, client visits in Sweden, dips in alpine lakes in the Engadine and a near perfect weekend on the Ligurian coast. While I often think I’m more astounded by peculiar behaviour and practices in my work life, it’s actually during off-hours that I find myself staring slack-jawed at the most stunning lapses in common sense.
On Friday I arrived at a superb hotel along the coast from Genoa and went through the standard check-in procedure of having bags hustled from the car, a warm greeting from the general manager, passports checked and then a brief tour of the property.
After I complimented the general manager on his wise decision to keep the original armchairs on the terrace rather than replacing them with something ugly and trendy, I scanned the property looking for details that might suggest sloppy management, staff unrest and poor attention to detail. The waiters were well turned out in natty uniforms, the plants on the terrace were healthy and happy, and there wasn’t a chair or table out of place. It wasn’t until we approached the lifts that things went a little off.
As this was a classic grand hotel and the lift was no doubt added at a later date, there wasn’t the usual amount of space for a lift lobby. Nevertheless, a designer had carved out enough room for a few vitrines displaying fancy wares, some seating for elderly dears waiting to ascend to the top floor, and plenty of space to allow waiting guests to stand back while making room for arriving guests to exit. What the designer couldn’t possibly have imagined a century ago was what would become of modern parenting.
In an earlier life this particular hotel didn’t have to discourage parents from travelling with toddlers as it was understood that you either stayed closer to home if your children were too young or they stayed with nannies and relatives if you absolutely had to get away. As a result, no concessions had been made at the hotel for 21st-century parents who travel with prams and buggies requiring the heavy-lift capabilities of the US Air Force.
And thus the area in which we waited for the lift had become a parking lot for prams that looked as if they might be able to carry half a mechanised army brigade. How big were the children that required such monster transport? Why the enormous wheels? Who was going to push anyone, big or small, up those cliff faces along the coast? Who allowed guests to dump their buggies for everyone else to manoeuvre around?
Half an hour later, en route to the pool, we passed the pram precinct again – only now it was at capacity. Not only would a special pram valet soon be necessary to move them in and out in a considerate and orderly fashion, a gardener would also be required to conceal them behind some bushy foliage.
As I continued to the terrace I wondered who was responsible for this eyesore. Was it the hotel’s problem to deal with them? It all seemed rather tricky to figure out where to store buggies in a hotel that was originally designed for the clip-clop of bronzed ladies in towering heels rather than the pitter-patter of pudgy little feet. Perhaps the parents should have been told that the buggies could not be left in the lobby and would need to be parked in their rooms with the rest of their belongings. As some of these prams looked as if they came off the same assembly line as the Hummer, it would be interesting to see how mama and papa would deal with their toddler transport plunked in the middle of their junior suite. Some of the parents should have also been told that babysitters do exist in Italy and that it was not acceptable to wheel one of those contraptions into the piano bar at 11pm.
Then again, would any of this be happening if there weren’t some type of pram one-upmanship going on? These days it seems that the less collapsible and compact your buggy is, the further up the socio-economic ladder you are. Just spend a few minutes watching an aircraft board and you’ll see a clearly defined hierarchy in the strollersphere.
Those of lesser means carry their children in their arms or have them in some kind of harness; the middle classes have sensible, collapsible prams that can fit in an overhead rack. It’s usually the wealthiest parents with two Filipino nannies in tow who are huffing and puffing and negotiating with the dispatcher about how they must be the first to have their pram the moment the aircraft lands.
I challenge you, dear readers, to develop a slim-line, sustainable pram that collapses into a handbag, doesn’t clog hotel lobbies and doesn’t delay the boarding of aircraft. Any takers?
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
This article has been subject to a correction and has been amended
More columns at www.ft.com/brule