Wednesday, May 30, 2018

What Is It Like To Have Servants?

I love this question, often asked by friends and associates who daydream about being rich and not having to lift a finger to get through a day. It's like, what else is money for if you can't have other people help you with all your stuff, right? For example, what if:
  • You don't have to make your own coffee or breakfast when you wake up? Thanks to Chef it's already waiting for you on the breakfast-room table. Or if you're feeling poorly or lazy you could ask for a tray to be sent up to your room - complete with a bud vase and the morning newspaper. 
  • You don't have to make your own bed or change the sheets (ever) since the Upstairs Maid will do that for you? (my personal favorite!)
  • You don't have to dust, vacuum or mop (again, ever) because that's the Executive Housekeeper's job to assign to her assistant House Cleaners.
  • Nor do you have to do your own laundry, ironing, or shine your own shoes since the Laundry Tech takes cares of all that. 
  • Do you need to take your car(s) out for inspection, an oil change, or routine maintenance? No, that's the Chauffeurs job of course - along with washing, waxing and filling them up with petrol.
  • Do you need to call a repairman (and wait hours for them to arrive) when the air conditioning, internet, or the washing machine goes out? Heavens no, that's what your House Manager/Butler is for.
  • Is it your job to mow the grass, trim the hedges and tend the flower gardens on your precious weekend off? Not bloody likely when you have full-time Groundskeepers to do that for you. 
  • Is it on your schedule to pick up the dry cleaning or drop off alterations at the tailor shop? No, either the Butler or his assistant, the household Errand Runner will take care of that for you.
  • Do you need to dash out to Neiman's to buy a few gifts for a wedding or other such reckless events? You can if you like, or your Personal Shopper is on hand anytime you wish, waiting for your call. Likewise she/he's there for birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and the enormous task of Christmas shopping.
  • Do you need to make your own travel arrangements, acquire theater tickets, or write your own Thank You notes? Not when you have a Personal Assistant.
  • Is it your responsibility to fly your own plane or steer your own luxury yacht? Not if you have a Pilot and Sea Captain on retainer, ready to go at your every whim. 
  • When you're having a gala at your estate for five-or-six hundred guests, do you have to be involved in any way? Not really! Just turn it over to your Events Planner who will organize the Caterers, Musicians, Florists, Decorators, Valet Parkers, Security Personnel, and Party Rental companies if you need tents and canopies. Then you can arrive at your own party stress free, dressed to the hilt in haute couture, dripping in diamonds - ready to enjoy a pleasant evening!  
While this list is hardly exhaustive, you at least get the drift of what it might be like to have an army of people helping you run your busy daily life. However, as noted in the previous post entitled Privacy For The Rich, there's a price to pay for all this help. And there are some situations, no matter how rich and powerful you are, when you have to do a task all by yourself - like standing on line at the Department of Motor Vehicles to have your picture made and driver's license renewed. (Although it's not uncommon to have a servant stand on line, then the boss steps up to take his place when his name is called.)

With the narrow definition of a servant being someone who provides a service, we all have a degree of unavoidable helpers and service workers in our lives, right? Beauticians, barbers, manicurists, dry cleaners, plumbers, electricians, repairmen, tax accountants and lawyers to name a few. Some of us can afford to have house cleaners and lawn-care workers come in once or twice a week. Some of us can afford to get a facial or massage now and then. And let's not overlook all the doctors, dentists and pharmacists trying to help us live healthy lives.

But there's one area when we actually choose to have service, even if we're not rich or powerful - that being when we go out to a restaurant. Depending on the establishment of course, here's what we might have available when we dine out, to a greater or lesser degree:
  • Valet Parkers to eliminate finding a parking place.
  • A Host/Hostess to escort us to our tables.
  • A Table Attendant brings in water and a menu.
  • Then a Waiter shows up to take our aperitif orders and dinner choices.
  • Right beside him a Sommelier (fancy name for Wine Steward) steps up with a wine list, ready to explain all the fine vintages in their collection that might be suitable for our dinner selections.
  • In the kitchen we have Food Preps washing lettuce and dicing veggies, and a Sous Chef and Executive Chef arguing about recipes and how the plate should be laid out.
  • Throughout the meal our Waiter shows up to observe, poor more wine, and his Table Attendant brings more water or bread and butter as needed.
  • When dinner is over, a Busboy comes quickly to take away the dirty dishes and clean up the mess we've made.
  • And back in the kitchen, the Dishwasher cleans all the plates, flatware and stemware so we don't have to do that when we wake up in the morning.
It's a nice experience to have a hearty meal and nourish ourselves without lifting a finger, right? But a word of caution here: this is NOT the time to act silly and snobby. The way we treat our Waiter and his crew reveals our entire personality, not just to the restaurant staff but also to the people we've brought along to dinner. Playing the uppity Big Shot here only gets us bad service, and scorn from our table party guests. And trying to show off our extensive (yet still sophomoric) wine knowledge to a dedicated Sommelier is a lost cause to begin with. In fact, here's a fun and informative article from the Food Network entitled 8 Things Your Waiter Wishes You Knew!

I guess the bottom line is that professional servants take care of needed, legitimate jobs in this world. Not because our rich employers are little Gods on this earth and feel entitled, but for a fat paycheck or a big tip in a restaurant! Abuse, whether it be physical, verbal or emotional, is not allowed - illegal in fact, and can be prosecuted. Arrogance on the other hand might be tolerated by those of us in service - that is, for awhile and to an extent. But it gets tiresome and reveals the true character of the person we're working for -  and provides a big clue as to whether we need to move on and get away from such a self-centered person at the first opportunity.

As always, thanks for stopping by this evening! I hope this post wasn't too tedious, but it's always fun to write about the master/servant relationship. Especially with so many instant and clueless billionaires popping up these days all over the world - like corn kernels on a hot skillet.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Privacy For The Rich!

In my capacity as house manager for a rich family I've often been asked if the rich have any kind of privacy. It's a legitimate curiosity of course -  especially these days with every TV channel airing dirty laundry and salacious stories about the rich and powerful.

It's reasonable to think that having lots of money can provide layers upon layers of insulation from the outside world and prying eyes. But generally speaking it's quite the opposite. As you already know rich, famous and powerful people are under constant scrutiny by the press, the paparazzi, the IRS always snooping around - not to mention jealous back-stabbing friends ready to gossip at the drop of a hat. Plus they're under relentless siege by legitimate charity organizations as well as posers,  ladder climbers, gold diggers (both male and female) and outright scammers.

The thing is, when you get so rich and involved that you need other people to help run your busy life, then your personal privacy goes straight out the window. From my unique perspective as head of  the household staff, here's a disturbing list of privacy issues that butlers, housekeepers, laundry techs, chefs, chauffeurs, personal assistants and private secretaries know about our rich employers:
  • First and most obvious, we know every nuance of  their moods - when they're happy, sad, or just grumpy for some damned reason. (Which gives us a clue if we need to momentarily disappear or hide out for the whole day.) 
  • We can see and hear if the Missus and Mister are speaking to each other at breakfast, or not. Trouble is usually afoot if nary a word is spoken. (Hide!) 
  • From their calendars, appointment books and notes beside their phones, we can figure out their comings and goings for the day. (After all, we can't get out work done until they get out of the way.)
  • If they fall ill, we know what medications they're taking and what kind of long-term diseases they might be fighting. (Ester the upstairs maid has a talent for Googling every prescription and keeping us informed.)  
  • We know what kind of cosmetics and vitamin supplements they're using to fight the ravages of age. (And we know from the pharmacy deliveries how many Viagra pills it takes to get them through a month.)
  • Their rumpled and possibly soiled sheets tells Ester if they had a fun toss in the hay or slept on opposite sides of the bed - which she immediately reports for our own well being. (When she tells us they used separate bedrooms for the night, that's definitely a reason to hide!)
  • From the empty wine bottles and sliced limes, we can tell how much they drank last night. (Which gives us a clue about what time they might come down to breakfast.)
  • Lipstick on the stemware, or lack thereof, tells us if their late night guests were male, female, or both. (If the Missus is out of town but we still find lipstick on a glass, this is a good time for everyone to keep their mouths shut!) 
  • Going out in separate cars for the evening almost always means trouble. (Our chauffeur is an expect at detecting unfamiliar perfume and cologne aromas.)
  • By sorting the mail we see their department store bills, their investment companies, letters from their attorneys, and legal notices from the court during whatever court battle is at hand. More importantly we see their party invitations and RSVPs. (Which tells us where they stand in local high society at the moment, like who's coming or who's snubbing them this year.) 
  • What they're wearing tells us exactly where they're going for the day. Dark clothes and veils obviously indicate a funeral. Casual clothes means they're meeting with intimate friends. Haute couture indicates a party or gala. (A cheap suit from Walmart means yet another day in court fighting off lawsuits.)
  • How they pack and how much luggage they take indicates how long they will be gone. (Which spreads like wildfire among the staff!)
  • And finally, by typing the tail number of their private jet into Flight Aware's tracking website, we know precisely when their plane is taking off, where it is at all times, and when they'll be coming back. (Urgent information so that we can all look busy when they return!)    

Mind you this is not so much about snooping and gossip as it is about job protection and self preservation. If you work in a 9-5 office job forty hours a week, you have every right to expect your employer to be on best behaviour at all times. Otherwise legal recourse comes into play. But in household service we know our employers can't be on best behaviour 24/7. We're much more tolerant of grumpy moods - we know how to deal with it or else we couldn't tolerate our jobs. In the service industry it's called professionalism. If we don't have it, then we're in the wrong business.

So do rich people have any kind of  privacy?

No, I don't really think so myself. And the constant drone of daily news on cable TV bears this out. Loyalty and confidentiality agreements can only go so far. But intense scrutiny (and gossip) is what it is.

Thanks for dropping by this evening. I hope this has shed some light.