Luxury and the Art of Denial

We luxury-lovers live in a world of denial, which "surprise" might just be our biggest ally in the fight for sanity.

Denial, as the bumper stickers say, ain't just a river in in denial

In fact, for those of us who drool over four-star hotels and Michelin restaurants, denial is our constant companion. We exercise it every day in our quest for the good life. And "surprise" it just may keep us sane.

Economic downturns aside, we live in an indulgent service and hospitality oriented world. The leisure industry has grown at an astonishing rate and the things that used to be done by ourselves, at home, (eating, sleeping, exercising) are being served to us, done for us, provided to us, by intermediaries. The richer we are, the more we trust in the kindness and cleanliness of strangers.

Of course that's not always reliable. Filth in the service industry is well-documented anecdotally ("I watched my sous-chef friend spit in G. Gordon Liddy's pea soup every day;" "My father owned health clubs, and I'll never, never get into a whirlpool again.")

The media loves the dirt, too. Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential describes kitchen staff snorting lines, smoking pot in the walk-in refrigerator, and having sex with patrons next to the garbage cans out back. Dateline NBC ran an expose in which the remote controls and sheets of the hotels investigated almost uniformly retained traces of semen and urine.

So how can we put that out of our minds when we're in the middle of the experience? What disconnect lets us pay to be served foods that may not be as safe as those prepared at home, or wallow in whirlpools filthier than our own bathtubs?

Barry Schwartz, Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, says that's where denial steps in to save us from a joyless, watchful life. It whispers that we won't be the one to linger in the feces-tainted hot tub, we won't be the one served the "sperm steak." This everyday coping mechanism lets us maintain our sanity in an increasingly abstract and choice-filled world.

Schwartz calls those of us who seek the best, "maximizers", and adds that we investigate our options slavishly "pouring over Travel & Leisure for that perfect B&B, consulting all the best sources to get the most pungent white truffle oil " and are thus susceptible to remorse once any choice is made. Selective ignorance and compartmentalization insulates luxury-loving maximizers from disappointment. We need denial more than others in order to remain happy.

Some think denial is necessary to society as well as individuals. The Union of International Associations cites a study by Orrin Klapp on processing information in society: "He argues that individuals and groups need to open and close themselves to information, as does the iris in adjusting the amount of light entering the eye according to circumstances."

When we can enjoy the same experiences we've seen vilified, it's a sign of our ability to dwell comfortably in the gray areas that make up our modern existence.

So the next time you wait three months for a reservation at Pastis, telling yourself you're in for the best service, the most pristine food, don't forget to strap your blinders on before you go. Put the Kitchen Confidential book out of your mind, block out Dateline, and remember: informed denial is the yin and yang of a modern life. Tip well. And whatever you do, don't send anything back.

Twitter: @SuccessTV

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