Vive la difference

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The Hotel D'Argouges

Despite having been a BBC business correspondent for ten years, I’ve never professed to really understand how the economy works.

But I do know a lot about hotels.

And it’s amazing what you can learn about a country’s culture and its economy from  a short stay.

Take the Hotel D’Argouges for example, and by the way, I can recommend that you do. It’s a peach of a French getaway.

Set down a side street off the picturesque main road in Bayeux in Normandy.

Outside, flowers and vegetables grow happily together in casually trained borders where tomatoes mix with geraniums.

To one side, a gentle fountain in a honey-stoned wall, with three caged birds twittering engagingly.

The large 17th century front with shuttered windows is approached  from the outside by a quaint double staircase.

Inside it is everything you would hope for – dark wooden panelling, parquet floors, Louis Quinze style chairs.

Bayeux with its tapestry and its closeness to the D-Day beaches is a busy tourist town all year round, there is no shortage of visiting Brits and Americans.

In short, the Hotel D’Argouges is a goldmine. Or it could be.

But the French owners seem to have decided they don’t want that.

Instead the aim seems to be to make enough to get by and then, thank you very much, it’s time to go and see the family.

During my time with the BBC I must have stayed at hundreds of similar mid-ranged hotels in the UK (though few as charming as this I can tell you).

But in corporate culture Britain there is no way it would have been run by a family. A hotel like this would have been owned by an anonymous chain, with furnishings, bedding and food exactly the same as in every other one of its hotels.

The staff would have been minimum wage workers from Eastern Europe and the building’s assets would have been well and truly sweated, with conferences, wedding fairs and paintballing weekends.

Back in France the D’Argouges has a large part of its land given over to a rambling barn, used as the car-park,  for which tourists are delicately ripped off for five euros a night . The biggest complaint about the place on internet reviews is that it doesn’t have coffee or tea making facilities in the rooms. Easy enough to remedy you might think, but the hotel gives a Gallic shrug to such concerns.

We were there  on the 4th of July. Now, the hotel was full of Americans. What a chance to stage a special evening meal with cheesy celebrations and extract more money out of the guests, we can be sure that would happen in Britain. But no, they don’t actually do meals in the evening.

Instead they sit on the steps of their hotel garden on a warm summer’s Sunday afternoon, grandparents and their grown up children, all happily chatting away and watching the grandchildren splashing in a paddling pool and laughing as the family dog jumps in to join them.

Making, I guess, enough money for a very comfortable living, without working too hard.

It’s enough to make a British accountant weep at the wasted opportunities to make money.

Yes, I can’t recommend it too highly.

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