Thursday, August 14, 2014

Addendum to: "Board Games for the Rich!"

The question about what the super rich do when they get together has come up many times in several different ways. In the last post you may recall I was attempting to answer the question about whether or not they play board games.

In my world of the old-guard rich, the answer is no. But they do engage in another type of parlor game that requires wit, mental agility, and stamina. It's called repartee, or sparring.

They chitchat, they drink, and they banter all through the evening. There's laughter with each level of excess, and the drunker they get, the louder the laughter. These mindless conversations almost always involve a degree of self deprecating humor, poking fun at themselves (or at each other) for some stupid little thing that's happened in their day-to-day lives. Nothing too mean or probing mind you, just silly stuff like:

"Can you imagine? Escada declined my order!" a fat lady said one evening, which brought some serious chuckles!

" Forgive the way I look tonight. The minute she finished washing my hair my hairdresser went into labor!" More laughter!

"When the pharmacy dropped off my husband's Viagra the dogs grabbed it and chewed up the bottle! We didn't dare go outside!" Which brings howls!

Dame Covington, explaining why she was late one evening, told everyone that when she was caught doing 50 in a 30, she scolded the cop and asked him, "Why did you stop me, young man, can't you see I'm in a hurry?"

Once when I got rooked into tending bar, a few old gentlemen clustered around the bar were discussing what their actuaries said about how much longer they have to live. "Six, eight, ten years", some of them bragged. But reaching for his fourth gin and tonic, one old buzzard replied "Twenty-five, thirty minutes tops!" Which brought down the room!

This kind of playfulness is always going on at cocktail parties and events around here. And the thing is, the laughter seems genuine and everyone seems to be having a good time. In fact, it all seems to be in the great tradition of Oscar Wilde, who's repartee among the British upper classes is well known if not renowned.

I think it was Wilde's stage play "An Ideal Husband" wherein the lead character Sir Robert Chiltern was berating himself for something or other, and one of his old cronies said "You needn't put yourself down old man, your friends will do that for you."

Now that's the kind of repartee that legends are made of!


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Board Games for the Rich!

Our friend Ben Reierson in Melbourne, Australia asked what kind of board games rich people play?

He went on to suggest that when the super rich play Monopoly perhaps they should start with the railroads and hotels they already own in real life, and add a few zero's to the money values to bring the game up to date!

After that hearty laugh, I don't even know where to start. Do roulette tables in Monte Carlo and poker variants aboard a luxury yacht count as board games, Ben? I know for sure my employers participate in those particular activities.

In this house, at the far end of the library, there's an antique wooden card table, with a leather top of course and two comfortable wing-back chairs. Sitting there on the table is a deck of gold-edged Louis Vuitton playing cards, which as far as I can tell have never been touched or shuffled. But there's also an antique mahogany chess board with carved ivory chessmen, exquisitely intricate in detail at God knows what price.

Ever since I've worked here there seems to be an on-going game at this table between my employer and one of his old cronies. These two old buzzards will take their gin and tonics to the table and sit there for awhile, sometimes actually making a move on the board, sometimes just picking up one of the chessmen as though to examine the artwork, then sitting it back down in the same place. Except to touch it up with a feather duster now and then, we in the house staff are extremely careful not to ever disturb the board or the chessmen's positions.

Unfortunately to say, considering the topic, that's about it as far as parlor games around here. However, while you might not often see the rich clustered around a board game, that certainly doesn't mean they don't own them as investments. Take a look at this awesome webpage. You can find a cheap Trivial Pursuit for about $6,000; a Backgammon for $1.5 million, a Monopoly game for $2 million, and a chess set encrusted with gold, diamonds, rubies and pearls for a whopping $10 million dollars!

It seems to me that all the fun and challenging new games that Ben's talking about requires a kind of intimacy among friends that allows for mistakes, laughter, disappointment, loss and failure all in one game, and it's not within my experience to see the stuffy old-guard rich open up like this. A slow never-ending chess games is about the best they can come up with, at least around here.

Anyhow, sorry for the disappointing answer, Ben. It's entirely possible that the younger rich might actually be able to sit down and concentrate on a board game. But somewhere in the back of my mind I kinda doubt it. They're all so busy running around the world in their jets and helicopters, from one high society event to another, where is there time for such idle-time fillers? "You wanna go to Rome and grab a pizza?"

Going out on a limb here, I'm inclined to think that board games are designed for us non-rich poor folk who can't afford to jump on our jets and run around the world in a moment's notice. And I'm aware of how horrible and crappy that must sound. Anyone with more upbeat or enlightened information can hit me right back in the comments below. But these are my observations, from my perch among the old guard.

As always, thanks for stopping by tonight,


Friday, August 1, 2014

Dealing With House Guests: Do Your Guests Bring Their Own Staff?

The question of how we deal with guests who travel with their own house staff has come up several times, both in blog comments and email inquiries. As you might imagine this has the potential of creating an awkward situation being that the guest's staff members are our industry peers, but our guests at the same time.

Fortunately, long before going into private service, I gained a lot of valuable experience in this regard due to employment in some fancy five-star hotels. In that environment it's pretty routine for the rich and famous to travel with the own personal assistants or nannies. Of course, rock stars and film divas arrive with a whole entourage - wardrobe assistants, hair and makeup people, secretaries and personal assistants, security personnel, not to leave out their current bed partner.

We had a frequent British gentleman who always brought along his Valet who stayed in a separate room. Bored to death and lonely, he would wander down to the lobby and hang out with us at the concierge desk, which was a little confusing. What is he? A guest, or a peer? But in no time I grew to admire this poor fellow and learned so much from him about proper British service. Even so, I had enough sense to maintain the boundary between guest and service personnel, which he seemed to understand and appreciate.

In private homes and private service things are not quite so chaotic. But it's not at all unusual for guests to arrive with their own personal assistants, or a nanny to take care of their little brats - which is a blessing to us of course, under the circumstances.

We once had a lady who came to the house with her own chef, due to her delicate health and dietary needs, and I thought all heck would break loose between her and our lazy-ass chef. But for some unknown and mysterious reason they seemed to hit it off and were filling the house with wonderful aromas. He didn't dash out that day like he usually does the minute his work is finished, and the next morning he showed up early, clean shaven and sober for God's sake. I don't even want to think about it.

The thing is, all these traveling staff members seem to be humble and polite in their new environment and circumstance, and seemingly relate to us as peers. They take their meals in the kitchen with us, not at the dining table with our employers. And, unlike their employers, they make few if any demands on us.

I don't really know if this is my own personal experience and good luck or if it's just the way it is when servants to the rich confront one another. We're all in the same boat, after all. But the basic bottom-line rule is that anyone sleeping under this roof is a guest, no matter their station in life, and treated accordingly.

Thanks for dropping in this evening. I hope this four-part series has shed some light on the subject of house guests, which we all have to deal with from time to time.