Letters to the Editor Newsletter

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, May 2021, Letters to the Editor

PostBoxLetters to the Editor

Regarding that video shot in the Maldives

“Great memories. I have since learned how to hold a camera still! I learned so much that day, not least of which; how to tie a proper bow tie. You can’t spend a day with Steven Ferry and not come away wiser and more knowledgeable.” Frank Mitchell

Ed: What a lovely message, but I have to say, you are the one who is a mine of information on numerous topics, such as the ones you kindly provided columns on for the MBJ, and I never cease to be enthralled by your depth of knowledge. I still tell the story of when we were in the Maldives and someone had a golf cart modeled after a classic American car from the early 1960s, and you nailed the make and model. And there was I thinking your knowledge of cars was limited to every model down to the nuts and bolts of the Rolls Royce family! Hope all continues well for you.

Of Rice and Forks

“You’ve lived in America too long and worked in many places overseas but you certainly know how to upset a true Englishman and also an ex-sailor. You don’t know half the tradition that goes with port neither do you know about sailors hands. Why do you think we salute differently to other services? The public schools of England are proud of tradition and just because other countries have their traditions, they are still seeking the English way, so there!! Otherwise, my kindest to you both.” RF

Ed: I love it, thanks for the slap on the proverbial wrists. Yes, I found it upsetting too, but thems facts is thems facts and much as I love the English culture and way of life, I am concerned for its future. I would love to hear about those traditions in the Navy, though. I was told they never stood for the royal toast because they’d hit their heads on the rafters of the wooden sailing ships. Correct? If so, is it still the tradition?

“After perusing your forked article, I do so continue to get your point or, dare I say it, tang? I can see that despite Covid being forced upon us in conjunction with maniacal politics, you both are still at the zenith of your game. Bully for you!” LW

Ed: Good to know that you are holding your own through the bizarre efforts at governance being visited upon us. Dang, not a tang but a tine, but I get your point!

“Very thoughtful & interesting message, I especially liked the informative article you attached from Sara Goldsmith, The Rise of the Fork. My only observation regarding other comments is to say, ‘Each to their own.'” RS

Ed: “Glad you liked the message and especially that fascinating dive into fork history. It seems we do not just have strong coffee for which to thank the Iranians/Persians. Without contrary comments, we would never expand our horizons and knowledge, so we always welcome them.”

“On a few occasions, I have had the pleasure of dining in cultural settings where the norm was to eat with the fingers. Being game and with the, perhaps misguided, intention of being respectful to the culture, I had a go at eating with my fingers. Let me tell you – it is a learned skill and not nearly as easy or intuitive as one might imagine. I felt a little bit like a toddler making a mess at a highchair! I was even offered a fork out of pity, so my struggles did not go unnoticed. However, I was rewarded for my efforts with huge smiles and managed to keep the goat meat off my tie! I will never look at anyone struggling with an unfamiliar knife and fork again without remembering that, as children, we took years and tears to learn the skill.” FM

Ed: You must have cut quite a figure, tie and shirt, jacket perhaps, maybe even cross legged, struggling to eat rice with your fingers, (I imagine sticky rice is easier), but relieved that your tie remained goat-meat free! Thanks for sharing your excellent effort at cultural ambassadorship and taking away some worthwhile lessons!

SABA Again

“SABA lies about job offers. The work ads they place on social media are lies. Their skill is in advertising their so-called academy. The picture they create during training about butlering is one of a cruel and mean world. Their inferiority complex they disguise with arrogance and rudeness and is an experience to see. The teaching is so basic that it was on a par with what I learned in my mother’s house. I will never forget the unfairness with which they treated a person with skill and knowledge. I wish I could join the butlering school in Belgium—it is my dream. SABA was a bad experience. I had to resign my job, lost my bonus, lost my income and all for what? True lies and broken promises. Sadness is not a word, it’s a reality. The sadness is that they still carry on with their ways, catching others in the same net and nobody can warn them, so this mission of lies grows bigger and bigger.” CI

Ed: Thank you for having the courage to share your experiences and I am truly sorry that you (and others) were treated so poorly and have suffered so much. I do not know if you are already involved in the case, but if not, please do reach out to the chief litigant who can help guide you.

“Thank you for reply. I don’t have the time to become involved as I am back in Export logistics, which requires a lot of attention to details. I lost a lot of money, I lost a lot of precious time, and it is not worth my time defending myself against a lot of lies. I have had to bury my dream because of a fake company—another potentially excellent butler lost to the industry—it’s sad.” CI

Ed: I am sorry you had a dream and that it was dashed. I do understand you want to leave the whole subject behind you—we are sorry to have lost you as a potential member of the profession but wish you success as you move forward.

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, April 2021, Message from the Chairman

Steven FerryMessage from the Chairman

Furore over a fork—and the fork in the road for the modern butlers

A number of media outlets had a few words to say about an ex-butler for the British royal family who recently claimed: “Ladies and gentlemen, remember we always use a knife and fork or chopsticks to eat rice! We do not use our hands or fingers.”

The lesser problem here being the definition of “we,” for certainly truer words were never spoken about the modern British royal family or those of occidental cultures, but what about earlier times, and what about the rest of the world? The main issue for those taking umbrage at this statement was the implication and underlying intent that everyone should do as Westerners do, or more particularly the British royal family, because these ways are superior.

This little spat highlights the crisis of culture as once-dominant western empires, which find their apogee or best expression in the lives of their royal families and the butlers who serve them, are literally being overrun by other cultures, their values questioned and institutions undermined from within.

Any attitude that an intrinsic superiority exists based on wealth, position, or cultural preferences is not likely to be met with much support outside the circles of the privileged few and those who seek to emulate them, and will only erode any support for their culture in general.

Typical responses to this statement, for instance, were: “We don’t need the so-called civilizing colonizers anymore—ours is an older civilization than yours;” others felt the use of toilet paper over a bidet and the habit of wearing shoes indoors called into question the legitimacy of any unsolicited advice from a westerner. There are no doubt good reasons for TP and bidets, and for wearing shoes inside in a colder climate as well as wearing no shoes. Neither are right, just different, and the only error is to close one’s mind to other points of view from which one can learn and improve—a social trend that has become endemic with the advent of social media—people in the isolated world of their smart phones and computers taking extreme and unrelenting points of view and losing any sense of brotherhood or connection with their fellow man and woman.

It’s a cute game to say the port must always be passed clockwise after the host has offered it to the guest of honour on his right, but is it intrinsically superior or right—outside the following of tradition—and is anyone not knowing or following this protocol therefore inferior in some way?

As a Brit brought up in one of the top private (public) schools in England, I was so blinded with arrogance that I would consider with unquestionable certainty that those whom I met while traveling abroad to be the foreigners and therefore not quite right or acceptable in some undefined way. Furthermore, anyone belonging to a lower social class could not possibly have anything to offer of interest. It took a while traveling the world and looking at my own insular culture from an exterior point of view to learn humility, to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual and of each culture, and to accept that perhaps everything British does not happen to be right just because it is British.

It is an interesting observation that the sense of self-importance grows the less certain a person is of their own uniqueness and value—insisting upon one’s own importance is about as acceptable as turning up at a formal wedding in work dungarees and exhibiting disdain for the family and other guests for their attire while lacking the knowledge of the proper dress code and any caring for the expectations, comfort, and happiness of others.

An improved statement regarding how to eat rice might have been:

“The British royal families ate rice (and everything else) with their fingers for about 600 years until 500 years ago when the more refined in Great Britain adopted the fork for eating (note, however, that until just over a century ago, British sailors refused to use forks because they were considered “unmanly,” but it is not certain they were ever served rice!). Fork over fingers has the benefit of keeping one’s fingers and hands clean and of being more hygienic in the event one has not had access to resources for washing ones hands before eating. On the other hand, it seems that eating rice with fingers may be more efficient—can anyone confirm this or explain the benefits of eating rice with one’s fingers?”

This statement is both true and informative, and avoids condescension while granting validity to other cultures.

As we no longer rule the waves and half the planet, we would do better to respect the many cultures that, in many cases, have succeeded thousands of years longer than the English culture (the Chinese have been consuming rice for 9,000 years, and Persia [Iran] was how both rice and forks eventually came to Europe and thence England) and from which we can continue to enrich our own culture—if we can indeed rise sufficiently to confronting the threat to its very existence and take actions to maintain it.

Which brings us to the fork in the road for butlers, particularly British Butlers, and most particularly, ex-royal British Butlers.

Do we keep marching straight forward, noses held high and signaling the appropriate level of sneer, comfortable in our innate superiority; or do we wake up and recognize that we have much to offer the modern world with our understanding of the superior service experience, the care of an employer’s interests and quality possessions—for the delivery of which we depend upon the service of others whom we appreciate and respect? This perspective is appreciated by others and will guarantee the continued relevance and value of our profession in this world—whereas an innate sense of superiority will not.

PS: For those of you interested. here is a very interesting article on forks.

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people- skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.