The Cross-Dressing Waiter

“Four in Hand” by Thomas Eakins (1880)

“Four in Hand” by Thomas Eakins (1880)

Snippets 124.  The English Hotel Nuisance by Albert Richard Smith (1855) is one long glorious rant about how annoying it was to stay in a hotel or inn at the time. The following is part of a description of a very old inn Smith visited, that was struggling to “keep up appearances”. Warning: the last sentence might make you laugh out loud – I certainly did!

At the back of the old inn were acres of stables: the amount of slowness, and feeing, and discomfort that the former occupants of these drew after them, was terrible to think about. Not much was going on here now. Two or three post-chaises were rotting under a shed tenanted by pigeons; and when I wanted to go to the station they said they would “order the fly to be brought out.” They had no notion of going to the corner of the street and calling a cab – of which there were several – in a few seconds. And I posed the waiter by saying, “What can I have for dinner besides chops, steaks, and broiled fowl?” Thus anticipated, he only staggered for a second, but then said he would go and see; and returned shortly to tell me I could have anything I liked. But I found afterwards the latitude allowed was too broad.

It must have been a terrible struggle for this old inn to keep up its old illusions. I suspect now that its staff of servants was made to appear larger by popping them in and out at different places, or bringing them on in different dresses, as theatrical processions are treated. Indeed, I once thought I saw an awful likeness between the waiter, who came in to light the fire, and the chambermaid.


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