The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 10, issue 1
International Institute of Modern Butlers
Message from the Chairman
We would like to offer a “Thank You” and “Farewell” to Ms. Pamela Spruce, who has retired from teaching butlers after many years at the helm of the Australian Butler School. We wish Ms. Spruce well in her new adventures, as well as Mr. Chris Reid, who has taken over the ABS. In Ms. Spruce’s words: “I think we can both be proud of the contribution we have made to the private service industry over the past fifteen-plus years in the business and trust that younger minds will take what we’ve achieved and build on it with fresh ideas and approaches.”
Continuing on the same theme, we would like to thank those who sent in kind comments on last month’s editorial about keeping work and life upbeat. Perhaps it is fitting that we expand on the message with some comments on the training of butlers today—for while not all trainers are of the caliber of Ms. Spruce, they nonetheless all share a passion for genuinely helping others grow…but a very small minority are not so clear in their intentions, and it is such people I feel it appropriate to discuss in the hope of empowering those they afflict with their training.
As disappointing as life can become sometimes, in truth, it is actually a game where losing or winning are not such dire elements: You lose? No big deal, was the game fun to play? The better games do not require there be losers. And the better players are as happy to win as to lose, as long as the playing was fun and there are plenty more interesting games to play thereafter.
But for some people, the game of life has become desperately serious—they feel so wretched about themselves and others that they have to come out on top, even if it means cheating or hurting others in the process. Being the only recognized player becomes more important than enjoying the game, or taking joy in the contributions of other players, the skills demonstrated by self and others, and the excitement of achieving goals in a cooperative effort.
One may well meet such people when training. A while back, I did. I had left my butler students very excited about the future while I went to service another client. I returned a few weeks later to complete their training, only to find them all of very low morale and 25% of them having left—and too many of the staff in other departments having left, too.
What had happened?
Another trainer, while claiming repeatedly to be the best trainer in the world, had told all the staff that if they did not do as he/she told them, they would be fired. Everything that they did was, according to this trainer, not good enough and they had been poorly trained; this opinion was frequently and very loudly made known to them and their colleagues. At the same time, the butlers had been forbidden to practice or use their standard operating procedures from the moment I had left, and instead had been told verbally to perform random, contradictory, and ever-changing procedures. They were punished and shamed in front of others for wrong answers or actions. Tests were rigged for failure.
When two of the butlers rated this trainer’s training poorly in an HR follow-up survey, they were fired. Others just quit rather than face the indignities. And despite never having worked as a butler nor actually training the ones at this location in butler skills, this trainer instructed these butlers to tell guests, when they asked, that they had been trained by him/her.
The managers were unwilling to rein in this individual (because the person apparently represented the owner of the managing company), instead supporting his/her demands and trying to persuade themselves and others that there was nothing that could be done about this individual’s training and management style. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.
Technically, such a being is stuck in the past and fighting some past unknown-to-them-and-everyone-else battle. Life has ceased to be a game, and instead, has become a desperate fight to the finish, where nothing anyone else does can ever be validated as good, and everything is criticized and made nothing of. In a nutshell, other people are completely unimportant and their actions never good enough.
When nothing and nobody are good enough, and therefore dismissed, an individual cuts themselves off from much enjoyment in life—they also happen to share the same mindset as criminals, who are not able truly to enjoy and experience their ill-gotten possessions and who have to insist upon their superiority.
In truth, the best way to control others, including those one is teaching, is with love, affection, two-way communication, trust, and confidence in them—a lesson this person could learn if only they actually cared for their students and were not so sure he/she already knew everything that needed to be known. Teaching can be frustrating, but the trick is to realize that any student who does not “get it” is simply saying, “Teach me in a way I can understand.”
In the years I have been engaged in training and consulting, I have met some strange games being played by a few colleagues (copying others verbatim and then claiming the work/ideas to be their own; training others in the profession without any personal experience in it, etc.), but these are all relatively harmless and make up the giant tapestry of how we as a group pass on skills from generation to generation. Overall, we muddle through and the profession keeps going.
But where an individual specializes in pushing others down, using fear and punishment instead of understanding the dignity, aspirations, decency, and value of each individual they have been charged with educating, then they degrade the game of learning, and the game of life, into an unhappy one. Such people only succeed, they only have power, as long as individuals fail to stand up to them. All the management and staff have to do is to say, “I am sorry, I do not agree with your comments and actions. Please leave.” If the individual won’t, they can simply take whatever (legal) measures are indicated, as such abuses generally violate the laws of the land, quite in addition to any standards of acceptable training in the 21st Century.
“Where there is a will, there is a way,” as the saying goes. But where such individuals have their way, there is no will left in their victims—the life goes out of them, as the under-butler said on his deathbed in Remains of the Day.
I have quite often written about the abuse of people in service and encouraged anyone so abused to move on: we are not yet in a feudal system of service where we work in repressive conditions for little pay and no choice about where we work because the employer owns and controls us like he owns a car or a dog. A case was all over the news this past November of three ladies being coerced into domestic slavery in London for three decades, trapped by their own fear. If they had read one of my books, they might have understood the wicked web being woven by their “employers,” and perhaps acted to free themselves many years earlier.
For if those who abuse are simply left without service, then that cannot be such a bad thing: there are many, many individuals and corporations that provide perfectly good work environments. Being in service means serving from the heart, with passion; when the recipient of such service, or someone claiming to represent them, has lost sight of the fact that life is a fun game in which the server, also, deserves to enjoy life as a fellow player, then the passion is sucked out of the service game and it turns to drudgery and worse.
In this case, I am not encouraging people to move on (it would be silly to leave because of one person in an organization that is otherwise wonderful to be a part of), but to stand together in refusing to cooperate with abusive forms of training—it is not how good butlers or service professionals are made, and not the standard in our profession.
One last point from Emily Post who says in Etiquette, A Guide to Modern Manners, 1922: “Manners are made up of trivialities of deportment which can be easily learned if one does not happen to know them; manner is personality—the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life.”
Good manners flow naturally from good manner, and from abusive manner flow abuses that continue only as long as the recipients feel obligated to play along.
Happy to hear any comments….
Letters to the editor
A strange letter perhaps, but a picture speaks a thousand words, as the cliche goes, and one might be forgiven for thinking this use of “butler” is just where the idea belongs.
Butlers in the Media
Apple joins the throng of those trying to move closer to electronic butlers
A book review on the life of servants in England over the last two centuries, picking up where E.S. Turner left off in his great book, What the Butler Saw.
Forrest Whitaker, who was recently nominated by the Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor for his lead role in The Butler, talks about the training he received for that role.
Perceptions of the Butler (Part 4 of 5)
by GJ dePillis
In past segments of this article, we explored the way a potential employer thinks about a possible candidate.
In this section, potential employers were asked how their perception of such as a butler’s accent, land of origin, culture, marital status, etc., influenced their hiring decision. Please note that the survey responses are truly held beliefs by the respondents, and are given here because they reflect a certain reality. However, the respondents’ views do not reflect the views of the author, the editor or the Institute.
A. British: 83% Positive, 17% negative. Some of the initial impressions of a British butler would be that they were capable, appropriate, and that there would be no language barrier, thereby fostering easier communication between employer and employee. The negative comments included the feeling that the employee may wish to “slide by” on the notion that the perfect butler was British and use their accent as a way to shirk duties.
B. French: 16% Positive, 84% negative. Several surveyed felt the French individual would not be dedicated to the job and would be difficult to understand, as well as possibly temperamental.
C. Italian: 50% Positive, 50% negative (In this case, the negative was because they felt this accent is associated with a chef and not a butler) Some positive attributes were: they felt an Italian-speaking individual would be trustworthy and stylish.
D. Jamaican: 33% Positive, 67% negative. Some positive attributes associated with Jamaican butlers were that they might be polite and easygoing. However, some employers felt such a person would be not dependable but rather focused on their own pursuits instead of the interests of the employer.
E. Asian (including butlers from India): Positive attributes included “diligent” and “hard working.” Those surveyed felt these employees could be counted upon to attend to detailed work. Some negative comments included concerns about culture clashes and values.
F. Hispanic: 35% Positive, 65% negative. Those with negative concerns were primarily uncertain that a Hispanic individual would be able to master the skill level expected of a butler. Given a choice, they would hire such an individual for a different position at their home, but definitely not as a butler.
G. American Southern: 70% Positive, 30% negative. Several employers surveyed felt that this individual would be charming and the accent was received favorably. Some of those who responded negatively expressed concern that Southern employees might use slang and improper grammar, which could reflect negatively on the employer.
H. American Bronx: 40% Positive, 60% negative. Some negative concerns were that this individual would seem too street-wise or tough to represent the refined gentleman’s gentleman that the employer was expecting. Words used were: opinionated, aggressive, and arrogant. Employers would value a butler who possessed varied skills and could “hold their own,” yet want the butler’s façade to express elegance and discretion. Positives simply stated they would not judge an employee on this accent and would look at their actions, instead.
I. American Canadian: 85% Positive, 15% negative. Words associated with a Canadian butler were reliable, polite, respectful, and honest. The few negative comments were simply associated with the desire to hire a US citizen, as opposed to a Canadian citizen.
J. American West Coast: 90% Positive, 10% negative. Those with negative comments expressed concern that this applicant would see the job of Butler as a temporary occupation and not take it seriously. The remainder stated such a butler’s accent was not distracting and even welcoming and familiar.
K. Other: This section allowed the interviewee to suggest an accent and associated assumption of the character of Butler applicant. Comments included: Russian accents implied the employee would be very strict. Several found an Irish accent pleasant, enjoyable, not stuffy, and capable.
In this next section, the employer was asked to explain if and how their perception of a candidate would vary if a butler candidate were any of the following:
- Honorably discharged United States veteran: 100% felt very positively about this candidate.
- Married: 35% said that a married butler would be acceptable as an applicant, but they did not expect to hire the wife in any capacity. 65% felt a married butler would prevent him from travelling with the employer, therefore viewed a married applicant negatively.
- Single: 100% felt an applicant who was single was preferable, but with some caveats: namely that all personal social activity should occur well away from the employer’s household. There should be no scandal associated with social interactions. Romantic socializing should not include members of the staff or household. Theoretically, should the butler’s personal life be made public, his actions should not reflect negatively on the employer’s household.
- Gay/Lesbian: One female respondent said she would prefer a gay male so that she would not be the unintended focus of his potential romantic intentions. The remainder of respondents stated they were neutral as long as all social interactions took place well away from the employer’s household. Respondents also felt strongly is that the gay or lesbian butler candidate should not be romantically involved with any other member of the staff or household. The final condition was that if the butler’s personal life ever became public, it should not reflect negatively on the employer’s household.
Finally, we challenged preconceived notions:
Would you consider a female applicant for the office of butler? 30% stated no; 70% stated yes if she were qualified and was strong enough to lift a sterling silver tea tray.
When you think of a “butler,” what race/nationality comes to mind and why? 90% stated British; 10% stated they couldn’t think of any particular group.
Would you call your butler by first name, last name, or nickname? 65% said they would call the butler by his first name; 33% said they would ask the butler what he wished to be called; 2% said they would use his last name.
Ms. dePillis is a freelance contributor to the Journal who is based on the West Coast of the United States. She can be reached via depillis at gmail.com
After assisting LVMH further with their Grand Opening at Maison Cheval Blanc Randheli, it was time to spend a few weeks at Anantara Kihava Villas, another splendid private island in the Maldives. The Villa Hosts put together this short Anantara Graduation video to show some of the training they received.
Consulting the Silver Expert
by Jeffrey Herman
Q: Some of the gilding has worn off my fish slice, can it be re-plated?
A: Yes, the worn area can be sponge plated and blended into the surrounding gilding.
Mr. Herman continues to offer his services to our readers, for any questions you may have about the care of silver. Either call him at (800) 339-0417 (USA) or email jeff at hermansilver.com
The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and skills of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resort, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts, & cruise ships around the world.
About the Author (Author Profile)Steven Ferry is chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers and the author of bestsellers "Butlers & Household Managers 21st Century Professionals" and "Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators." He also trains and consults for the profession around the world.
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