She was a Phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition sent
To be a moment’s ornament. – William Wordsworth
Sometimes there’s a major cultural gap between whores and amateurs; either we say or write things that most amateurs seem completely unable to comprehend, or else they make a big deal about something which seems to us much ado about nothing. The particular story which made me think about this was this one published on the BBC News website on May 20th, which came to my attention via EconJeff on the 24th:
[Munich Re, the world’s biggest re-insurer,] held a party [in 2007] for salesmen where they were rewarded with the services of prostitutes…The gathering was held at a thermal baths in the Hungarian capital Budapest as a reward to particularly successful salesmen. There were about 100 guests and 20 prostitutes were hired…[the women wore] colour-coded arm-bands designating their availability, and…had their arms stamped after each service rendered…guests were able to take the women to four-poster beds at the spa “and do whatever they liked”…”The women wore red and yellow wrist bands. One lot were hostesses, the others would fulfil your every wish. There were also women with white wrist bands. They were reserved for board members and the very best sales reps.” A spokesman for Ergo [a division of Munich Re] told the BBC that the party had happened, but said it was not the usual way of rewarding their employees…”We’ve taken all the right steps to prevent it happening again,” he said. “It was a mistake but we are very sure that it was a unique event. The new people of the sales organisation introduced a very personal commitment that these things should not happen again.”
I’m trying very hard to grasp how a sales reward party held four years ago can be considered news in any way. Companies do this sort of thing all the time as an incentive to salespeople: top producers are flown to some resort, put up in luxury, feted and sometimes showered with gifts and personal services such as massages or (in the case of saleswomen) makeovers. Since prostitution is legal both in Germany and Hungary, what’s the problem? Obviously nobody complained because if he had this would’ve been current non-news in 2007 instead of old non-news in 2011. Did some radical feminists get upset or something, or was the party held without the board’s permission? Did the randy Germans rack up too high a tab, or did the tax men reject the cost as an allowable business expense? Because if it’s the latter, and you agree with the disallowance, maybe you’d better sit down because you’re not going to like what you read next: this happens on a much smaller scale all over the world, all the time.
One of the perks of many executive or sales jobs is a company expense account; the employee is allowed considerable leeway in spending at restaurants, clubs and other entertainment venues because it is recognized that a little wining and dining goes a long way toward winning customers (and that includes politicians being wooed by lobbyists). In other words, a few hundred dollars worth of food and entertainment can result in many thousands or even millions in business. And though prudish accountants might balk at payouts to strip clubs and call girls, they don’t have to know; the racy names of many adult entertainment companies are just DBAs, and the actual names on their business licenses are either neutral (mine was a set of initials) or sound like those of other hospitality industry companies.
Most of the time the girls don’t even directly realize they’re being employed as bribes, but if you are an escort who’s ever been hired by one man for another (outside of bachelor-party arrangements or dads initiating sons) you have served in this capacity, even if the guy who hired you referred to the gift’s recipient as his “friend”. And if you work in a state or national capital, a good percentage of those “friends” were either politicians or bureaucrats. Since I’m reasonably quick on the uptake I generally recognized these situations for what they were, but I remember one instance where I didn’t have to guess because the gentleman who hired me spelled it out: he was the regional sales representative for a large vendor of snack foods, and I was the bribe for the buyer of a large retail grocery chain to switch from his current supplier to that which employed my client. Considering how much money was riding on the deal I couldn’t help but feel incredibly flattered, and I suspect that was exactly what my wily client intended by telling me; the self-confidence boost raised my charisma by several notches over its already-high level, and I had the buyer eating out of my hand as soon as I walked through the door.
But it’s not only high-level employees who get their companies to hire whores for them; even lower-level employees who travel for their jobs can usually manage it even without expense accounts, thanks to the magic of per diem allowances. For those unfamiliar with the term, a per diem is a set amount of money for which employees are reimbursed when travelling on business. Some companies insist on receipts for everything and pay only what the employee actually spends, but others prefer to avoid wasting their accountants’ time with such minutiae and therefore simply pay the full per diem due that employee. A man who prefers fine women to fine food can therefore easily hire an escort and be reimbursed by his company, through the simple expedient of eating much more cheaply than his per diem allows and applying the surplus toward his other appetites. If you’re a corporate accountant and have never considered that your travelling employees might do this, I suggest you look at it philosophically: How can it be right for the company to pay for the satisfaction of one physical need but wrong to pay for another? You’re spending the same amount of money in either case, and a happy, relaxed employee will almost certainly do a better job.