The Hotel X is an odd, labyrinthine place that reminds Orwell—who was hired primarily because he speaks English—of the lower levels of a ship. Orwell’s job is to serve the upper-level hotel staff. He fetches their meals and cleans their dishes. It’s a grueling day—from 7 a.m. to a quarter past 9 p.m.—in stifling heat, but he finds it easy work for the most part. Visiting the kitchen is unpleasant. With its roaring fires and bustling staff, it’s basically an inferno, and everyone is impatient with the workers who are lowest on the totem pole.
By comparing the basement of the Hotel X to the hull of a ship, Orwell is perhaps suggesting that that the plongeur is, in some ways, a slave. He later states this in more explicit terms, but begins to build his case here, arguing that the kitchen is a hellish place and the hotel a symbol of a rigid class system that arbitrarily favors some while denigrating others.
A waiter, grown friendly when he sees Orwell is a hard worker, invites Orwell to dine with him upstairs and hear of his escapades, which include killing two men in Italy and skipping out on his military service. The chef du personnel then offers Orwell full time work for a month. Smote by conscience and remembering that the Russian restaurant is set to open in two weeks, Orwell asks if he can be hired on for a fortnight, but the chef du personnel shrugs and informs him they only employ people by the month.
The fact that both the waiter and Orwell communicate this story of murder with very little commentary is revealing. Restaurant work, Orwell soon discovers, requires only that one be willing to do back-breaking work for hours at a time. It doesn’t demand that a man be honest or even respectable. In fact, those traits can often prove to be a handicap.
When Boris hears of this, he is furious and tells Orwell to go back to Hotel X and beg for his job back. He also says Orwell should ask to be paid by the day. That way, when they leave in two weeks to work at the Russian restaurant, they aren’t out any wages. Orwell finds this morally suspect, but he soon realizes that hotels are notorious for treating their employees shabbily. There’s no code of honor because there’s no shortage of men who will work the jobs.
Boris’s optimism is often misplaced—for instance, he obviously proved himself too trusting in the affair of the Bolshevik newspaper—but he is much more well-versed in the demands of the working world than Orwell, who continues to learn lessons the hard way. To retain work, one has to be willing to lie.