The catered chalet holiday is a peculiarly British concept. I can think of no other nationality which enjoys being stuffed into a small space with a bunch of complete strangers and then forced to live more or less as a family whose mother figure is usually a completely clueless if generally willing 18-year-old.
It’s not sounding all that attractive, is it? Come on, we all know what ‘family life’ is really about. It’s not the Perry Como Christmas Special idyll, admit it. It’s all about other people in your personal space, embarrassing siblings who behave strangely in public, having to explain yourself all the time and being totally unable to maintain any sort of private independent existance. How glad were you when you finally escaped to university and could be anyone you liked without your childhood teddybear and the fact that you made a scene in school over having to eat lumpy custard at the age of five hanging round your neck like that sodding albatross?
But the Brits love it. Ever since Erna Lowe funded a cheeky Austrian ski and visit-the-rellies trip by placing an ad in the Times in 1932 for ‘other young people to join her Christmas skiing’ at £15 for a fortnight’s full board in Solden (ooh, how things change), the chalet product has shot through the stratosphere and branched out in all directions, from the now defunct Descent International’s wipe-your-arse-for-you-sir? service to cheerful budget accommodation with the likes of Huckster’s. And I know which one I’d prefer, but then I’m not Prince Andrew. (Which is just as well, considering that he got stung for a £25,000 deposit when DI went down the tubes. Oops.)
Chalets are marketed as a comfortable home-from-home kind of holiday, filled with homely cheer and like-minded people inclined to indulge in jolly banter over a vin chaud followed by convivial Trivial Pursuit, and not bore you to death by droning on in a beardy way about different types of ski wax, or get hopelessly pissed and wake you up at sparrowsquat in the morning before throwing up in the bootroom.
There is, obviously, an etiquette to this sort of chalet thang, though no-one will ever tell you what it is. A bit like that whole ‘dress-down Friday’ wank, which was just another way for the big-business machine to dish out insider points. Oh there’s no dress code – just whatever you like to wear, they’d say, in a chirpy post-silicon-valley fashion. So it’s OK if I come in wearing ripped jeans and a bike jacket with a teapot on my head then? Errrrr …………… well, maybe not. But whatever you like! Thank you so very much you soul-eaten corporate zombie. Give me that P45 right now please, before I turn into you and have to kill myself.
Dress code: some sort of dress is usually considered polite. The welcome meeting in which someone saw fit to get his bits out was mildly entertaining, but serving dinner to 20 naked people was less so, especially when it occurred to us that we would probably have to clean the chairs before next week’s guests as well. And while we’re at it, trolling about in your underwear probably isn’t that advisable either – M&S long johns don’t actually look all that good on someone with a footballer’s physique, but on a slightly overweight accountant the effect is frankly emetic. Joggers and a hoody we can live with, but really, have a bit of consideration.
Meal times: it’s the done thing to turn up on time, more or less. Your spotty mother-substitute won’t actually throw a strop at you about lack of respect and the fact that he’s been slaving over your dinner for hours etc etc, but the vibe will definitely be there. And besides, your fellow chalet inmates will revenge themselves upon you for making them eat cold deep fried camembert by drinking all the wine, which was the only thing likely to make cold fried cheese something approaching palatable.
Cake: don’t eat it all. This is considered the very pinnacle of boorish bad manners, much worse than turning up naked to dinner or wearing grey Y-fronts on the sofa. As a rough guideline, if you’re in a chalet for 12 and there are 12 pieces of cake, you only get one. If you want extra cake you will have to either a) bribe your host or b) befriend that annoying faddy bird who picks at her dinner and goes on about her ‘intolerances’ all the time, in the hopes that you can snaffle her slice as well. Though I’ve noticed that these people very rarely have a cake intolerance, so this might not be that successful a strategy.
Hot water: bit like cake, in that there’s unlikely to be quite as much of it as you’d like. Taking long hot baths will not endear you to those inmates who skied until last lift and now face the prospect of a cold shower. Particularly if you scoffed half the cake as well.
Prostitutes and class A drugs: generally frowned upon, except in certain very expensive establishments, most of them located in Courchevel and owned by sinister looking men whose names end in -ski. (Appropriately enough.) I did spend an entertaining afternoon once throwing someone out of a chalet for snorting coke off the dining table and then sexually assaulting the host (I personally would not have risked rubbing my bits against the bottom of a young woman who was taller than me and holding a large kitchen knife, but each to his own). We Googled this charmer later on and discovered that he ran a company which wasted a lot of website space telling the world that it wasn’t a hedge fund, oh no, not at all, really honestly, how could you possibly think so. Which led us to the conclusion that he was a hedge fund manager, though I suppose it could be said to be a point in his favour that he was ashamed of it.
Sex: feel free to have some if you like – you’re on holiday after all, relax and let your hair down. Try not to have it with other people’s partners though, as this could rather spoil the atmosphere later in the week. It’s acceptable to get it on with other single and available inmates – indeed this provides entertaining gossip and adds to the social mix – but preferably not in the jacuzzi. And definitely not on the sofas.
Noise: don’t make too much of it. I know everyone’s image of a ski chalet involves tastefully renovated stone-built farmhouses with roaring log fires and spectacular views of the Matterhorn, but I’m afraid the real thing is too often a hastily thrown up DIY kit building whose internal walls have all the sound insulation properties of a Cornflake packet. Have noisy sex or a blazing row with the wife by all means, but expect the whole resort to know about it by lunchtime the following day.
The fridge: is off limits. If you come in with midnight munchies and scoff half the contents there’s likely to be no dinner (or at the very least no cheeseboard) later in the week. This is nearly as serious a faux pas as eating all the cake.
Alcohol: some of it is always a good thing, especially when you have to spend a week house-sharing with a bunch of complete strangers. Offering it round is looked upon favourably and will probably get you a reputation as being a good egg (depending on the quality of what you’re offering – a ’69 Bollinger will score you more egg points than Buckfast or White Lightning). But avoid getting completely legless, urinating off the balcony and hurling four-letter abuse at other people’s children – this will make for a frosty atmosphere at breakfast. Assuming you make it to breakfast after that, which is unlikely, when I think about it.
See – it’s like walking through a minefield without one of those proddy things you see them using in films to dig the things out before they blow your leg off. Personally I’d sack it off and rent an apartment – walk around naked as much as you like, raid the fridge every night of the week and drink as much as you see fit. It’s probably still the case that urinating off the balcony would be frowned upon, but you can’t have everything.