The Introvert’s Innkeeper Script

In the course of a normal day at my historic bed and breakfast, I converse with somewhere between two and five couples who are visiting me from the far reaches of the globe. I’ve hosted people from every continent except Antarctica (I’m still hoping), with hugely varied backgrounds, vocations, and personalities. I’ve learned more than I ever needed to know about these people’s hobbies, grandchildren, pets, cars, diseases, and heartbreaks.

Yes, running a bed and breakfast is a wonderful way to meet and converse with people, to learn about different lives and cultures and see a bit of the world through other people’s eyes. It’s an ideal profession for an extrovert.

So where does that leave the Introvert Innkeeper?

I have a little secret for you, something they never tell you about a job like this: real conversation is as rare as icebergs at the equator. Rather than being a polished conversationalist, I am a talking robot, a computer program who responds to fixed cues with identical streams of words every single time. Instead of conversing, I am performing a part in an improvisational play where I’ve learned 100 lines, and the only question is, which order will I deliver them in today?

Fifty of those lines are delivered as a matter of course to nearly every guest. There’s the regular check-in and room-tour speeches, of course, but there are also certain questions that every guest asks, almost without fail:

“How long have you lived here?”
(“We’ve been in the house for seven years. This is our fifth summer as a bed and breakfast.”)

“This house is so beautiful!”
(“Thank you, we think so too. We feel very fortunate to be able to take care of it for awhile.”)

“When was the house built?”
(“We didn’t name it the 1899 Inn because that was our favorite number.”{charming smile} “1899 – just like the name!”)

“Do you know anything about the history of the house?”
(“No, it’s never occurred to me to ask any questions about a significant historic house in a significant historic town.”
“It was built by a gentleman named H.B. Wardman, who was a local hardware merchant… etc etc.” )

As you may have noticed, after answering the same questions several times every single day, the temptation to go snarkily off-script starts presenting itself, but I’m too well-behaved to do that while on stage.

The second set of 50 answers is for the chattier guests, the ones who have more in-depth questions about the history of the house, and for the ones who are, themselves, genuine extroverts who want to get to know me and do some bonding. I can gracefully handle almost all of these questions:

“That strange knob is where a gas fixture use to sit on the wall.”
“Yes, we live on the second floor at the top of the stairs.”
“It had been vacant for three years when we bought it.”
“I grew up down in Rapid City, so yes, I’m sort of local.”
“Deadwood has a rather complicated relationship with the casinos.”
“I had it dyed professionally, but I do the upkeep myself.”

But there’s a subset in that second set of 50 questions that I have come to fear and loathe, a set of questions that feels too intrusive, too impolite, but which 8 guests out of 10 feel compelled to ask anyway. The questions come in several forms, but they’re all seeking the same answer:

“So do you love doing this?”
“Do you ever get to take any time off?”
“How do you stand having people in your house all the time?”
“Has it always been your dream to run a bed and breakfast?”

And the fact is, they don’t think these questions are inappropriate because secretly (or not), everyone who visits me has daydreamed about running their own bed and breakfast some day, and they want confirmation that their fantasy is a good one, or sometimes, they genuinely want to know if they could handle the reality of it.

My responses to these questions are, like all the others, scripted and well-worn. Though I will give a different reply to the folks living in a fantasy world and the folks who seem to genuinely want to know, all of my replies to these questions are carefully-worded half-truths.

“You get to meet so many fascinating people from so many different places!”
“We slow down a bit in the winter, so we get to take some time off then.”
“You can learn to sleep through anything!”

The fact is, people don’t want to know my real answers to these questions, and I certainly don’t want to share them. I’m convinced that one of the ingredients for being successful in a job like this is to make sure people believe you love what you do and that talking about it is always a pleasure in itself.

But maybe some people really, truly want to know about the hard stuff. So here, for the first and only time, are some honest-to-gods answers to those questions:

Running a bed and breakfast as a primary source of income is hard. It’s not like putting your spare bedroom up on AirBnB. It’s not like hosting your out-of-town family for two weeks in the summer. It’s not like a sleep-over with your girlfriends.

You probably expect the work that will go into keeping your house immaculate all the time, the work that goes into making nice breakfasts, that goes into recommending local attractions. On the surface, you understand that you will be sharing your house with strangers every night, but until you do it, it’s really hard to understand what that means.

You don’t think about how you’re on the clock 24 hours a day, how you can’t leave the house without putting a sign on the door that says, “be right back, call if you need me right away!” You don’t think about all those special diets you have to cook around, the people who will be grumpy about things you thought went without saying, like the existence of your well-photographed cats, or the lack of closets in the historic bedrooms. You don’t think about how important it is to set limits for yourself (earliest breakfast is at 7:30am and latest in-person check-in is at 10pm because I have GOT to protect my sleeping hours) and about how unhappy some guests will be when you try to enforce those limits (“but we have to LEAVE at 7am!”). You don’t think about what it means to know there are strangers in your house with you every night of your life, how they might not come in until 3am, how they might wander into your kitchen and eat all your Oreos, how they might accidentally (or otherwise) bang doors at 5:30am, how they get confused and try to come into your bedroom instead of theirs, how they get first dibs on your big TV and on the bathroom where the laundry machines are. How they ask you the same questions every single day of your life, the single most infuriating of which is, “so do you have a real job too, or is this what you do?”

(I won’t counsel you on any other kind of conversation to have or not have next time you stay at a bed and breakfast, except for that: for the love of all that is sacred to you, never ask “do you have a real job too?” I will testify at the assault trial of the guy who punches you for asking, and tell the judge it was completely justified.)

This post isn’t here to solicit pity of any sort. In many, many ways I am incredibly fortunate to be doing what I do, and there are many parts of the work I enjoy. I will always answer the questions guests have about my house happily (if formulaicly), knowing that if I were visiting someone else’s beautiful historic house, I’d be helpless to resist asking the same questions myself.

If there are things I don’t love about this job, I also know that I am not stuck here, and when I’m ready I’ll be able to move on to the next thing, knowing a whole lot more about humanity than I did before.