Orwell’s best days at the hotel are those he spends working with Valenti, a kind, handsome Italian who worked his way up from the gutter. His worst days are spent dishwashing for the dining room. The days are long, the soap inadequate, and the waiters he serves are rude and disrespectful.
Valenti serves as a foil for Orwell here. Having experienced true suffering in his youth, Valenti is grateful even for his job as a waiter at a hotel. Orwell, however, suffers greatly from its small humiliations.
The divide between the dining room where the guests eat and the scullery where Orwell works is immense. The dining room is all elegance and flowers and spotless tablecloths, whereas the scullery is a lesson in filth. Cooks hide away food for themselves that, when forgotten, rots in corners, and waiters stick their dirty fingers in the cream pots. When they leave the scullery to wait on the guests, however, they are paragons of cleanliness and good manners and they play the part of the sophisticate well Orwell wonders if the guests sometimes feel privileged to have such aristocrats wait on them.
With its emphasis on style over substance, Hotel X is a microcosm of Parisian capitalist society. At the top are the hotel patrons, at the bottom the plongeurs and other menial laborers. The waiters occupy a space in between. They are the nouveau riche. Having achieved a certain amount of status by mimicking the habits of the rich, they can almost pass as bourgeois. Of course, given that the hotel is filthy, Orwell seems to be pointing out that class systems such as this are ridiculous and arbitrary.
Nonetheless, it’s a silly, brainless job and Orwell wonders at people who spend the bulk of their working lives in hotels. The woman he replaced, for instance, was at it for 60 years and all the while was bullied mercilessly by the male staff. Still, she showed up for work in a wig, having meticulously painted her face. Maybe, the narrator thinks, restaurant work—despite its grueling pace and daily humiliations—does not drain away all of one’s vitality.
This is a rare instance of Orwell taking the time to consider the plight of women in the restaurant industry. It’s important to consider, though, that he attaches proof of the woman’s vitality to her wig and makeup—both superficial indications of health and well-being that could, in fact, suggest the opposite.