Etiquette has been around as long as there have been social gatherings. People have even written about it; Amy Vanderbilt comes to mind, with her 1952 book Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette. Mostly it talks about food manners and contains phrases such as when you bring food to your mouth with your fork, nowadays it is though that the tines should be pointing down, not up. Additionally, there are “white-glove” schools for children to attend. However, one profession associated with etiquette that seems almost foreign to many of us in the mainstream middle and lower class is the majordomo or butler. Enter Charles MacPherson.
As a radio host and interviewer, I get books in the mail all the time. Perhaps the most interesting tome to come through my mailbox in recent memory is The Pocket Butler by MacPherson. It is a compact guide about all things formal and touches on a wide range of situations from meeting high-end business people, hosting large parties, and even how to interact with the general public. Some advice Charles offers includes when to make eye contact and shake hands, topics to talk about at parties – as both a host and a guest – and most importantly, the best wine and food pairings. Also, a red wine glass is bigger than a white wine glass, which in turn is bigger than a champagne flute. Plus, who knew that there were seven different types of plates; forks, knives and spoons for every type of meal and occasion.
What struck me about this book was that MacPherson wrote it in a way that many of us lay people to understand. I know for me, the Butler is a job that seems to be disconnected from the rest of us in a way. I appreciated his relatively simplistic approach to many aspects of life that we today don’t often think about or have simply forgotten. He makes sure to distinguish between formality and tradition. Yes, tradition can be formal, but it doesn’t have to be. Conversely, just because something is formal does not necessarily mean it is tradition.
When I spoke with him, he was quite candid about his love for both Lee Daniels’ The Butler and particularly Downton Abbey. With the latter show in particular he explains that the way Charles Carson is portrayed is accurate for Victorian times, while offering that Butler’s job has evolved with society.
Many think that the Butler’s job is to simply serve the man and/or lady of the house. While this is true, there is much more to the job than that. The butler does not live with the family – MacPherson has his own apartment and often hosts parties of his own – and is involved in many other day-to-day household activities such as food preparation.
Charles is more than a butler. He has over 25 years experience in “household management”, founded Charles MacPherson & Associates in 1996, and, in 2009, opened North America’s only school for Butlers and household managers in Toronto. Yes, he is Canadian too.
The Pocket Butler is a great resource for anybody in the hotel business, restaurant kitchens (and front of house staff) and generally anyone who likes to have a little bit of fun when hosting a parties. Perhaps a formal dinner party will spring up. From the small to the grand, MacPherson has advice and tips for every occasion. Oh yeah, and don’t get him started on texting. E-mail for crying out loud. Or better yet, pick up the damn phone
The Pocket Butler: A Compact Guide to Modern Manners, Business Etiquette and Everyday Entertaining was published on May 5th by Random House. His previous book, The Butler Speaks, was published in 2013. He is currently writing his next one tentatively titled The Butler and Household Manager‘s Compendium