Miles Kington: Please to tell if the quality of food was to good standard

The hotel feedback form seemed to be composed by someone who had not done a great deal of writing in any language, let alone ours
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The Independent Online

The other day I had to spend a night in a hotel in East Anglia, and as soon as I had checked in, the receptionist, who, though very sweet and nice, was foreign and did not speak English very well, pressed a bit of paper into my hand and said: "You please complete this before you leave."

I thought for one excited moment that I had strayed into some kind of spy drama, and took the secret message up to my bedroom before reading it, but alas, it was merely one of those questionnaires people like to have filled in so they can find out what you thought of the experience you have just paid for.

My immediate impulse is always to be helpful on these occasions, and to fill in the form to the best of my ability. I knew at once that it might be helpful to recommend that the receptionist - who, like most of the nicest people these days, had probably blown in recently from eastern Europe - should be given a crash course in English so she could understand my questions and not have to send for a colleague to translate them, but of course there is never a space in the questionnaire to suggest that sort of thing. Especially not on this questionnaire.

This questionnaire was headed: "Feedback Form". It continued: "Please could you take two minutes to completed this feedback form in order for us to have feedback on our product."

After that it said: "How was your check in fast and efficient". After that there were four little boxes marked Excellent, Good, Average and Poor.

I was stunned. Where was the box marked "My check in was good, but slightly marred by my inability to speak Polish, or maybe Czech"? I was further stunned by the language in which this particular form was written, as it seemed to be composed by someone who had not done a great deal of writing in any language, let alone ours.

Look at the evidence.

The form asked lots of questions ("How was your check in fast and efficient" and, later, "Was the quality of food to a good standard") but used no question marks or indeed any punctuation at all. It used the word "feedback" three times, as if it were an English word, whereas we all know it is an international management word meaning nothing.

It referred to their hotel as a "product".

And nobody English would write "Was the quality of food to a good standard", with or without a question mark. "Was the food of a good quality?" or "Was the quality of food good?" perhaps, but "Was the quality of food to a good standard" was the work of a foreigner trying to write English.

That was when it clicked. This feedback form HAD been written by a foreigner. This East Anglian group of hotels, at one of which I was staying, had obviously fallen into the hands of some nice, well-meaning but ruthless people from eastern Europe who were trying to seem English, but had been unveiled by me. And they were using it as a façade for ... for what?

My only lead was the girl in reception. She would know. She might be one of them. Or she might be a helpless tool in their hands. Maybe when she had handed me a form and said, "You please complete this before you leave", she had actually handed me the wrong message, and she had meant to hand me a note saying: "Help! I am a prisoner in the hands of an East Anglian hotel chain based in Warsaw! Whatever you do, don't have the smoked sausage! It is poisoned! Oh look, here comes my strict supervisor! I must go now!"

Either way, I would have it out with her. But there was a new girl at the desk.

"Hello," I said. "My check in just now was fast and efficient. I will definitely tick the box marked 'excellent'. But it was with a different girl. Where is she?"

"I do not understand," said the girl. "I will ask, please. You wait."

My nerve cracked at this point and I did not wait. I am now back in the West Country, but if any East Anglian reader cares to continue the investigation, I would be glad to supply them with details.