Announcing a new policy: I’m going to slap you in the lips.

I had a small disagreement with a hotel yesterday.

I had booked for three nights, but a change of plans required me to cut the trip short and come home a day early. As the clerk was processing the change, she said that she’d be refunding the third night, minus a “15% administrative fee.” Now, I know that changes like this don’t manage themselves magically, and I understand that I was inconveniencing them a tad, so I didn’t put up a fight. However, I won’t be back.

See, a) we were dealing with a mostly vacant hotel, and b) it took her longer to say “15% administrative fee” than it did to actually do it. I asked why the fee, given that the notification was being given more than 24 hours in advance. Her response: “it’s our policy.”

I’m sure you’ve heard that line before. Usually you hear it when a company or agency of some sort is in the process of doing something to you that you don’t like. And always – ALWAYS – these words are uttered with a certain formal reverence, as though the speaker believes them to carry the weight of Constitutional authority. This is POLICY. Kinda like their policy is somewhere in the 7th Amendment or something.

Nobody ever challenges them, either. (Sadly, I let this crap slide more often than I care to admit, so I acknowledge that the word “policy” has come, through the years, to resonate with a tone that says “thou shalt not question me.”) Which makes the word one of our most successful corporate bullying tactics.

But, what does “it’s our policy” really mean? Well, it’s fairly simple. At the operational level, it means “this is how the company has decided to do things.” Period. Companies are constantly dealing with a variety of situations, and it makes sense to handle situation X the same in all cases instead of reinventing the wheel every time. I get that. Hell, I have been responsible for developing policies myself. But, that doesn’t mean that a corporate policy is law, nor does it mean that it makes sense.

Back to my hotel example. There’s no cost associated with the change. It takes about five seconds. It doesn’t represent a significant inconvenience in this case (especially since there was plenty of room inventory). The only issue here is that the company was losing a night of my business, which they probably didn’t like. So this is a way they can keep at least a little of my money, and hopefully in the process they can “disincent” such behavior on my part in the future. (They succeeded, too. Better than they dreamed. Because they’ll also be losing not only this night of my business, but all future nights that I spend in their city. Turns out I don’t like being nitpicked.)

In other words, “policy” doesn’t mean “this is a law.” It didn’t come down the mountain with Moses on a stone tablet. It means “because we said so, motherfucker. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

So, consider yourself duly informed in advance: next time you start this gratuitous, penny-ante bullshit, I’m going to bitch slap you. Yup. Back of my hand, right in your lips.

I know, I know. It hurts. I understand – you don’t like being bitch slapped. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s policy.

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