Some years ago, I travelled down to Santiago, Chile, and stayed at a “W” hotel. I’d never stayed there, but it was in the area I needed to be, and why not try something new. I don’t usually do well in “W”-type hotels because it’s just not my scene. I get that there’s an entire demographic that loves that sort of stuff, but for me… being in a place that’s trying too hard to be hip and cool, it just comes across as pretentious, Bright purple colours, edgy art, a DJ during what’s supposed to be a quiet Sunday brunch, a lobby that feels like a nightclub and is full of people who aren’t guests — but just want to be seen there. In trying to emulate what they think is hip and cool, they lose the message. And when you couple that with cultural differences… what you end up with is what greeted me shortly after arrival, when I called down to housekeeping. They answered, and here’s how it went:

“Umm… hello….?”
“Yes, Mr. Kemeny… what can I do for you?”
“Oh… hi. Yeah, do you have any extra coat hangers? Could you please send some up?”
“Uhhh… sorry, what?”
“Yes, right away… someone will be up right away with some hangers.”
“O…K… great. Thank you.”

She hung up, and I sat there thinking about it. I totally get where they think they’re coming from… it’s their “W” motto — “Whatever, Whenever”. It’s plastered all over the walls, as in, “Whatever you want, Whenever you want it”. That message is clear and appreciated and exactly what you’d hope for in a boutique hotel. But in trying too hard, and not quite getting it, it comes across as incredibly rude and dismissive.

Don’t get me wrong, I found it amusing, and completely embraced it for my entire stay. I’d get in the elevator, and someone from the hotel staff would say hello, and I’d say…. “Whatever!”, with a big smile. Walking out the front door, the doorman would wish me a good day and I’d reply, “Whatever!”, and give him a nice tip. It became my de-facto reply to everything, especially because it’s often what I’d feel like saying anyway. Still or sparkling water? Feather or foam pillows? Milk or Cream? Freshen the towels? Restock the mini-bar? Turndown Service? Whatever.

For those who grew up with that word and its more common use, you understand that hearing that word from someone doesn’t usually mean “Oh, absolutely, whatever you’d like”. It means something more like, “Your opinion is worthless to me, and while I heard what you just said, I couldn’t care less.” They say the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Indeed, what would be worse to hear back after telling someone you love them? It probably doesn’t get much worse than “whatever”.

As this pandemic goes on, that word and its implications are showing up, and not in the good way. Why aren’t you wearing a mask? Why aren’t you social distancing? Are you really heading out of town for the long weekend? Doesn’t it concern you? The “whatever” replies in this context are a bit more sinister than usual, because in a way, what they’re saying is not just “Your opinion doesn’t matter to me”, but also, “Your health or well-being doesn’t matter to me.”

The great success we’ve had around here fighting this thing… can have a bit of a downside, and that is people getting too complacent, too “whatever”. We aren’t through this yet; not by a long-shot. The idea was to flatten the curve, to be sure our medical infrastructure could handle things if they got a lot worse. Thankfully, that was achieved and things did not get too bad… but rest assured, they still could.

And if you weren’t going around saying, “whatever” a few weeks ago, you certainly shouldn’t be going around saying it now. There’s a big risk that things stay relatively flat, we all see that, and our “whatever” attitude starts taking over as the weather gets better than things open up. I hope we can all remember exactly where we’re at, not even halfway to the end of this. We keep hearing that the second wave can be a lot worse than the first one. As much as I loathe fear-mongering from the media — oohhh, here’s a scary story, click here to read it… this common house-hold item could kill you — click here to find out what it is! — I really dislike that crap, especially because I fall for it as often as you. But the one fear-mongering thing I welcome these days is what we’re being told repeatedly about what can happen if this thing gets out of control. And it will, in some parts of the world. How about we don’t let it happen here.

We all have a roadmap from 100 years ago… there was a first wave, things got better, restrictions were lifted… things went back to normal… more than they should’ve, people dancing in the streets rejoicing… including a huge, crowded parade in Philadelphia (among others)…and suddenly, things got very bad, very quickly. That was a whole lot of people saying… whatever.

So, ok… let’s use that word, but in the good way. When someone asks you to put on a mask, take a step back, move the discussion outside… you can certainly say “whatever” — as in, “Of course, whatever you’d like.”

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