It was just last week we were discussing the recent onslaught of Britishisms in America, though at that point it seemed we were talking primarily about semantics and not about British traditions or habits (tea drinking, butler-having, driving on the other side of the road, and so on). But a piece in this month's Economist adds fuel to the Anglocreep fire: People who aren't British want butlers now. Some of them can actually afford to hire one.
Yes, true, we've always wanted butlers. Someone to bring us our coffee with a bit of clotted cream in bed in the morning, to lay out a fresh set of ironed clothes, to meet us with a martini when we walk in the door after a long, hard day at the office, to warm our bath and to tuck us in at night,. Someone who works for us, and therefore can't nag; someone expert at planning our schedules; someone who would just make our life a little bit easier, a little bit nicer, and also, class up the joint we call home. Someone with a British accent. We've wanted one of our own since Mr. Belvedere was in prime time!
It's happening, though, if not for us, than for some. People with money who might not have otherwise had butlers are hiring butlers. According to the Economist, "Bespoke Bureau, a London agency, has placed 345 butlers this year—twice as many as in all of 2011." Butler training courses are booked until 2013. Demand keeps going up, not just among "old-money aristocrats" but across the globe. Latin America is seen as a big potential market. The butler business is huge in China, Russia, and the Middle East: "Of Bespoke Bureau’s placements 80% were abroad, says its boss, Sara Vestin Rahmani. Of the remainder in Britain, half went to foreign employers," per the Economist.
We can blame Downton Abbey (we always do) but before Carson there have been butlers a'plenty, British and otherwise: Mr. Belvedere, Agador Spartacus of The Birdcage, Bruce Wayne's (aka Batman)'s butler Alfred Pennyworth, Niles in The Nanny, Cadbury in Richie Rich, Drake in Annie, Geoffrey in The Fresh Prince, Higgins from Our Man Higgins, Hobson from Arthur, Angus Hudson from Upstairs, Downstairs, Wadsworth from Clue, Smithers from The Simpsons, Max von Mayerling from Sunset Boulevard, Rosie the Robot Maid from The Jetsons, and, on and on, not forgetting of course, the universal butler, Jeeves.
So it's not really new at all, this fascination with butlers or perfectly elegant service professionals to tend to our various needs without us even asking. It's just that people who didn't used to have them are hiring them now: "Clients are paying for British traditions, hierarchy and experience, Ms Vestin Rahmani says"—such that would help one avert "misunderstandings about port," know the "vital semantic differences between a formal dessert and a pudding," and, we presume, be able to dole out pithy but conscientious life advice while eradicating streaks on the china and picking up discarded jackets from the floor.
But the butler business is not just about the good life for those who employ said butlers. From the Economist:
A world-class butler can earn up to £150,000 ($240,000) plus bonus, separate living accommodation and all expenses. If a wealthy client finds you indispensable, Mr Seddon-Holland says, a butler can “demand almost anything” to stay put.
Life is more than mere survival, after all.
Image via Shutterstock/Steve Cukrov.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.