They seemed courteous and friendly enough, our fellow vacationers at the Nassau Beach Melia Hotel. They held the door for the next person, and at breakfast they waited their turns to be seated. They smiled at appropriate times; they weren’t too noisy. A nice crowd. A little more than half were American; the rest were European.
So how can I explain the thing with the towels and the beach chairs?
Every morning, early, the hotel staff put up lounge chairs on the beach and around the swimming pools. Lots and lots of chairs. More it seemed to me than the hotel guests were ever going to use.
And early every morning a staff member opened the window on the towel shack and started checking out towels.
We soon found that by the time we finished breakfast, changed into our bathing suits, and grabbed our books and sunscreen, the lounge chairs would all be taken. Not by people, but by towels. By the towels of people who may want to come down to the beach sometime later in the day and wanted to be sure their group had chairs when they decided to use them.
As I said, the hotel guests seemed like a nice group of people. They were from various countries with a variety of customs. And there were more than enough lounge chairs for everyone to use.
So why did everyone ignore the common good and act instead in their own selfish interest?
Well, I’m no social scientist, but I suspect it has something to do with group dynamics. Or maybe with “perceived scarcity,” a phenomenon that retailers use to encourage you to hurry up and buy their products. You’ve heard it: “Hurry down. Available only as long as supplies last.”
My son-in-law, who’s a big reader and often skips breakfast, did save a few chairs for us on some days. But a time or two we found ourselves at the beach or swimming pool with no place to sit.
You guessed it. Eventually we had to fall in line. We had to succumb to the invisible command of group dynamics and, like everyone else, claim our beach chairs early and keep our towels on them all day long.
We were stubborn enough, though, to wait until the last day or two of our summer vacation.