We are staying at hostels in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark in June. Is it still the custom to have to leave the passports at the reception? We would feel very uncomfortable doing this.
They probably need it just for the time necessary to jot down your info.
Sometimes places are busy with check ins, so they take your passport to fill out info and you can get it back in an hour or so, its not a big deal, the desk clerk is not going to steal it and i have never heard of them losing ine. Relax. Its the least of your worries, you are far more likely to lose it yourself!
I've stayed in over 50 places in Germany/Austria/Czech Rep in the last 15 years and no one has ever requested to hold (even looked at) my passport.
However, I do think it is required by law in Italy for the accommodation to give to the police the identification (passport information) of anybody staying there.
cmclau2, you said "hostel". Is it possible that this is to reduce the number of lost or stolen passports? I don't stay at hostels myself, but if I were in a room with 8 bunk beds, I would be pleased to have my passport the responsibility of the management!
This discussion is slightly related to the perennial topic of whether a photocopy of the title page is adequate in your belt-pouch for a day of tourism. Except in an authoritarian country, that's all I carry around with me. I've even left a photocopy at a booth for "security" for an audioguide.
It is the law in all Schengen states that hotels must record the passport details of foreign guests. There is no requirement to give the details to the police, just to record them in case the police are investigating something and ask (days, weeks or months later). However since nobody ever asks, many hotels don't bother.
As Pat says, if reception is busy they may ask to keep your passport so they can fill in your details later, and deal first with the people waiting behind you. You will get it back in a few hours.
The only country in which I've ever had to leave my passport at reception is Italy. I spent about a month in Norway last summer and stayed at three different hotels (I stayed in a private home most of the time). I was not asked to relinquish my passport in any of them.
Same as Roberto. When reception has a flock of guests checking in they may ask to hold your passport for recording to expedite checking in a group or groups.