Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Saturday, March 08, 2008

"Borrowing" books from a holiday home - a Modern Moral question

As I'm frequently working down near Heathrow airport at the momment and it's a 70+ mile drive each way with the M25 and A1(M) in the way (i.e. it's a painful 2-hour morning commute), I've been staying over some nights and hence reading The Times in the hotel fairly frequently.

In an October issue of The Times there was a 'Modern Morals' entry I thought quite interesting:
The holiday home that our family rented in the Lake District contained a selection of second-hand books - left, we assumed, by previous holidaymakers.
Our daughter became engrossed in one book but had not finished it by the time the holiday had ended.
We agreed that she could take it with her, as we left one of our books in its place.
Was this an ethically acceptable swap?

Joe Joseph the resident moral columnist replies ...

Life is so much simpler when you make your own useful assumptions isn't it?

By assuming that the holiday home's library comprised the leftovers of previous guests, it becomes a lot more convenient to execute a swap, doesn't it? After all, the books don't then belong to the owner of the house; they are not, thus, an amenity left to make the stay of the guests more pleasant. They are pretty much one step away from the dustbin. Why you're practically doing the owner a favour by taking them with you!

Once you assume that the books have been left by previous holidaymakers, it becomes less ethically troubling to swap one for one of yours. Were you to assume that they belonged to the owner, you'd feel no more able to carry out this swap than you would swap one of your saucepans for one in the rented house's kitchen.

And what makes you think that holidaymakers leave behind books? Many won't even leave behind two unused tea-bags.

Definitely food for thought!

I'm happy to report that we have no such similar moral challenges with the books in our holiday home.

We've a small library of books that I've read and enjoyed, and our 'Gite Guide' tells our guests that they're more than welcome to read them, borrow them, or leave their own completed holiday reading for the benefit of others. Over the years I've added a more books and some children's books as well, as have our guests, and so much so that I had to erect a second set of book shelves in the bathroom as the shelves in the lounge were overflowing!

Fortunately we'll eventually complete rennovating the second Gite so there'll be room for more books in there if they continue to accumulate. It's interesting when we go on holiday ourselves to France to play 'spot the difference' and try to work out what books are new.

Joe Joseph has published a collection of his Modern Morals columns in the book Should I Flush My Goldfish Down the Loo?; just £6.49 from Amazon.



  • I don't have any major issues with the personal who took a book and replaced it with another. There are obviously no ill-intentions. However, I do think every effort should be made to contact the owner before doing so and, if not possible, afterwards too.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 20, 2008  

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