Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Female Butler - A Modern Jack-Of-All Trades

Since moving to Vancouver, Canada, many years ago, I have had the privilege to meet many interesting young people from all walks of life. It is a joy to continue to stay in touch with a few of them in even a small way and follow their journey as they embrace where life takes them. 

Awhile ago a private email arrived sharing that one of these uber-talented individuals had started on a new career - that of a modern day butler - I was intrigued. A female butler? This was something new. And it is absolutely not anything I ever pictured her doing as a career.  WOW!

I was seriously pleased when she agreed to share a bit of her story - but because of the inherent confidentiality issues, there are minor adjustments to fully guarantee the privacy of her clients - something very important in this business. All are very minor.  What you will get is a great feel for her job.  As she shares - it isn't what we see on old British TV shows.  She really functions more as jack-of-all-trades who steps into every role needed, doing whatever is asked.  This is a great look behind the scenes at how the other half lives - just my kind of story!

Not surprising, when I asked her philosophy her answer was, "Life is strange, go with the flow and always be nice."  Enjoy!

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Where were your born - grow up? What were you like as a child and teen?

I grew up in the Toronto area, was an honour roll student, studied a lot. loved music, play piano. did well in math and science. I also took up horse back riding and martial arts as a kid, competing in both and winning quite a few awards locally and on a national level and travelling to a lot of big competitions and seminars in the states to learn more and compete.

Typical picture of what a butler was in the past.
After graduating high school, what paths did your career take?

I followed the martial arts for a few years. It doesn't pay - more of a hobby I enjoyed and excelled at. I coached, trained and competed. On the side I was a server, bartender and house keeper for a hotel chain for about 12 years. I'm now in my thirties.

Favourite hobbies, passions, pursuits?

Vegetarian cooking. martial arts. yoga. horses. I love my two kitties.

When and how did the idea of becoming a butler first arise? Become a reality?

I met a couple through the martial arts Their kids are my age - in their thirties - and they are in their seventies. They're in great shape, great condition and they have staff- a personal chef, someone to do laundry and ironing, a chauffeur / maintenance man, personal trainer, personal yoga instructor, the whole nine yards. I met them several times over six years through the martial arts community. They have the same background (country, genetics, culture) as the leader / master of the martial arts I was excelling at. so I was often at these seminars on stage leading group exercises, etc. and I kept seeing them because they liked to travel and had the means for it.

Mr "Jones" approached me and offered a small summer job as I was already bartending weekends at night and coaching during the week. It was only a few hours. I started working cleaning, making the beds, laundry, ironing, tidying the kitchen, loading the dishwasher and setting the table. Basically they run their home like a small hotel plus restaurant. I had experience in both. 

One of the perks is driving luxury cars!
They also love to throw big parties with food and wine, so i would coordinate servers. I still know a lot of people in the city who want drop in work shifts. Shortly after I went to a Butler School. I won't say where or when to keep my identity private. However there are many locations in Europe, Virginia has a famous one, and there's a small up and coming school in the Toronto area that's getting some good press. My program cost was covered by my new boss, who flew me to the location, found accommodations, and gave me spending money.

What preconceptions did you have about the life and work of a butler before you started?

I had no idea what to think, no expectations. I love to watch Downton Abbey, but that has history as well. I was trained very formally, but the home I work in is rather informal. Compared to how most people live it's uptight, but in general it's relaxed atmosphere, not pretentious. My bosses are very kind and we actually have a small staff, so every one knows each other well.

What has surprised you about your responsibilities?
Not much. Every day is a little different. Sometimes I hear crazy business discussions on the phone - something I can't say so much about - but then a few days later I'll see something on the news or on Google mentioning the deal that i heard about. Kinda trippy!

Does a modern butler typically live-in or out? What is the uniform for a female butler?
Either. It depends. I don't live physically on the premises. but I live near the estate close enough to walk. My boss owns the unit I live in so I don't pay rent, but I'm also not technically "live in" as I don't live with them. It's a common perk to have housing taken care of. If i happen to travel with them, travel costs are covered, including hotel or apartment while we are away.

For a uniform I have a full on suit with white button up shirt, collar, black tie, black jacket. However, I rarely wear it. In my day to day chores I wear leggings and t-shirt. Modest. Where we travel during the winter it's hot so I wear shorts and a t-shirt. When we have guests I put on a simple black dress, panty hose, plain flat shoes. 

What should someone interested in this type of work expect in terms of working hours - obviously not usually a M-F, 9-5 job. How hard is it to schedule time off?

It really depends on the employer and contract that you negotiate. I'm on call pretty much.  If they ask me to come in, I do. My contract is for x number of hours with x days off per year. As they often travel, I usually take my "off" time when they are away. I work eight days in a row before my two off. I'm flexible because that's what my employer wants. There are definitely jobs that are 9-5. For example, a new job position in recent decades is the Corporate Butler who assists the key positions: CEO, Pres, VP etc board members. They drop dry cleaning, schedule appointments, run for coffee, etc. I have signed up to work every Saturday and Sunday as my co workers all have those ones off.


Describe a typical work day.

I work 8 to ten hours a day and these are the tasks that are done, sometimes by me, sometimes other staff. 

-Morning: Fetch paper, make tea (her) and coffee (him), bring into bedroom, with milk, sugar and wafers (cookies) when requested (request by text as the estate is so large yelling or ringing a bell is silly)

-Work out days: They both go down to meet the trainer in the personal gym. Sometimes the yoga teacher comes on the weekend and masseuse with table. I put out water, workout towels and running shoes by the front door in the direction of their gym (yes, their gym. it sits empty the other 160 hours of the week)

-Breakfast: It is formal. Plate, side plate, two forks, big spoon. tea spoon, two knives, linen napkin, not paper, fruit platter, eggs, toast, gluten free toast thing, oatmeal, topping for oat meal, yogurt, tea, more coffee and sometimes a meat dish or veggie scrambled eggs.



-I can load a whole dishwasher on just breakfast. It's okay. We have three dishwashers in the one kitchen, perpetual and double laundry system. We're not trying to save the planet, we're trying to upkeep standards of the house hold.
-While they eat I tidy the bathroom, make the bed, fetch the laundry (usually last night's clothes and the pyjamas, maybe work out clothes from the morning) and start running the machines. Two washers, two dryers - efficient.

-Afternoon is cleaning and errands. It takes about 45 minutes to really clean the bathroom. I wipe everything in the four living rooms. Wipe each TV. Dust pretty much every artifact and antique /I can reach. Vacuum 6000 square feet a few times a week. Iron everything that comes through the laundry including pyjamas, bed sheets and underwear; and of course all formal wear. Clean coffee tables, if the kids or grand kids have been around. Put shoes away and hang up coats in closet. Tidy the guest room / play room / media room. 

-Evening: set the table for dinner. The cook makes every thing. I heat and serve, clean up, load and empty dishwasher(s). Sometimes we have guests. The I would make tea/coffee service to go with desserts and serve wine if needed.

-While they eat I do turn down service, empty bathroom garbage again, tidy, refold towels, take decorative pillows off the bed, pull down the sheets so you just slip into bed, put new water glasses out next to beds and swifter the floors for hairs. re fill soap, toilet paper, Kleenex

-After dinner: Clean up dinner table, take out garbage, sanitize the sink with bleach, wash and polish wine glasses, wipe down entire kitchen especially the counters and take apart and clean coffee machine.

-Night: Flip the last loads of laundry. We don't leave unfolded laundry sitting around. If you don't have time for it to dry, don't put it in the wash. save it for tomorrow. We run about 6 loads of laundry per day depending on how many people are staying and/or how many family member are around.
-Sometimes drive dinner guests back to their hotel.

-They are both retired and don't go to work. but often have lunch dates / board meetings / charity events / golf games to attend. I drive them to the airport, doctors appointments, I call the dentist to make appointments, buy groceries, baby sit the grand kids, walk the dog, get the mail from the mail box, email, print, FedEx, fax, scan, copy and fix the settings on their iPad. Tutor math and science!



What do you love best about your job? Least? Is there a funniest moment you can share?

I love driving the fancy cars. I never thought I would be that chick but man, there's something about a Ferrari that feels special. Top down, drop at the airport and then O need to take the car back. It's always the return trip I love when I'm alone. And there are so many different cars. It's not really a Ferrari. I had to say something though! 

Life is strange sometimes. I've been a broke martial arts coach, couch surfing, living simply, owning very few belongings and now I'm in charge of a closet of 80 handbags I could never afford in 12 life times. The excess I see is sometimes overwhelming. It's things i would never imagine or think of. Sets of keys to nine different cars with a combined total of 1.5 million. Not bad. Is that the definition of irony? I couldn't afford the gas nor the insurance on even one of them. I could sell the cheap car and buy a dozen Honda's. They only do fancy. Same with their clothes. One great perk - hand me downs!

Least favourite task is ironing bed sheets. the fitted sheet is my nemesis. I'm good at it. but it's not easy. Funniest moment was when he had a lab test his doctor wanted him to do involving peeing in a jug for 24 hours. My job was to drop it at the lab. Here, please take my piss to the lab. Sure. Yes sir. Another time, I drove two hours, to a rural town in Ontario. He had installed a pool for a set of the cousins. My job was to put a big red ribbon over the pool cover with a sign that had the kids names on it. I made the sign, bought thick velvet ribbon from a craft store and got crafty! I took a picture, emailed to boss, who was half way across the planet and when the twins came home from school, on their birthday, they had a new pool!


In the past this has traditionally been a male occupation. Is that changing? Do you know other 
female butlers?

The neighbours have a male butler.... but apparently it's becoming more of a thing in the Middle East. Dubai and Saudi Arabia have a growing market of new money, these people are getting staff, nannies, housekeepers, etc. The big thing is to have a butler. Really, I'm a glorified house keeper and personal assistant. The industry is big and I'm new as I've only been doing it for four years. 

It's the Muslim community that prefer female employees, especially Western females. They have a thing about women and men not touching - can't shake hands etc. - and if you have a man in your house and you're a woman, every time you leave your bedroom, you need to be covered head to toe including your hair. It's not practical. Plus they can only marry into their own culture, so if you're not Muslim you're not a threat to any marriage. I know of a family that prefers female staff for that reason. They have 7 employees, all female, mostly Mexican. That way the daughter and the mom don't have to cover up to eat breakfast in their own kitchen.

List some of the most important characteristics to excel at this type of work. I would assume confidentiality is top of the list.
Zita Langenstein - as of 2009,
Switzerland's only female butler

I have actually had to lie a little bit already, but I try and make up things that are close to the truth. I rarely tell people what I actually do for work. I imply my former job of martial arts coach, as I'm still active in that community plus the bar tending on the weekends. I post nothing on Facebook that would imply I even know my boss. I work long days. I don't drink. I have no social life really, but I have a career I love and I'm kinda a quiet person now. 

www.tourismvancouver.comI partied hard in my early twenties in college. Now I'm looking to retire at 55 and start a PHD in something interesting. I'm well paid and have the ability to save. I have to sleep, rest, do my laundry and get ready for another shift  in my off time. Anything can happen. One day i was told to bring my passport just in case that afternoon we flew to Florida and came back the next morning!

Note - want to read more - check out this article on Switzerland's Only Female Butler!

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