As an example of the sort of witty, insightful, and altogether fresh thinking which makes the Monocle Quality of Life Conference so energizing, we are reprinting Monocle editor Andrew Tuck’s recent missive on his adventures in the sharing economy. Enjoy.
This is a column the size of a cotton sheet. And a warning — it’s going to cost you this week. How much? Only €15 each — you can leave the money on the kitchen table as you leave.
It’s a few days before a wedding in sunny rural Provence. Hotels are few and far between so we have booked a couple of houses via you know who. A few days before we depart my phone pings. It’s a message from the host. “What time do you arrive?” she asks. Then adds, “We do not provide sheets. Do you bring yours?”
Now, while I have been thinking about an outfit that might make me look almost dashing, I have not been contemplating decanting the contents of the linen cupboard into my suitcase. To start with, I don’t even have a linen cupboard.
So begins an exchange of messages with our host where I try to ascertain the size of the beds and whether there are pillows. Towels? Perhaps I should check if there are four legs on the bed. Before I can ask — PING! A new message. Would I be interested in renting sheets? Oh and check out is 09.00.
Most people have wised up to this sharing economy, where amateur landlords rebadge themselves as hosts (do you remember when a host would approach with the offer of a drink, perhaps a canapé or two?). Madame’s version of being a host is a bill for a sheet, an early-morning boot up the backside and an anonymous key exchange at the village kebab shop.
The house turns out to be OK, decorated with the cheapest version of everything you can imagine and a fondness for rag-rolled walls not seen since the 1980s. The pillows are firmer than a weightlifter’s buttock. When tense. The pillowcases are boudoir-red and the glass-topped kitchen table is wrapped in a thick layer of plastic, like it might be used in a mortuary. The shower is so ill-fitted that, as you exit, you realise the water has made a dash for it and filled a neighbouring utility room. Cue frantic (naked) mopping.
OK, I get it. The deal you are entering into is one where cheapness and simplicity trump cost and complexity. But that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. If a hotel messaged you to say your room will be sans sheets, you’d presume some prankster had hacked their computer. But in share-y world you just shrug and pay up.
The interesting thing about revolutions is that they often don’t stop where the rebels want. And as fissures show around the sharing economy — and especially how property sites are bending local economies and devouring city cores — you have to hope that there are more, and better, changes to come.
Or, as we regularly champion here at Monocle, a world of possibility for a new generation of modest inns and hotels that don’t resemble an Ikea showroom and don’t charge extra for sheets. We’ll do our bit to make sure this happens — it’s central to the debate at our forthcoming Quality of Life Conference. But before you move on today, don’t forget to leave the money.
A few of us from AGEIST will be in Madrid for QOL. We hope you can join us there.