“Dear Mr. Woodley” is the column of Estate Managers Coalition resident butler, Crispin Woodley, who will answer your questions about all things “butler-esque.”
From proper introductions to thieving guests – to handling undermining children – to how to let Madam know that her outfit is simply inappropriate, Mr. Woodley advises with the knowledge and flare of European etiquette and protocol which only a fine butler understands.
Edited by guest estate manager Martha Lockie.
Dear Mr. Woodley,
My boss is always telling me, “Take my Tesla out for a spin!” or “Join us for dinner;” and last week he offered me the use of his Malibu beach house for my upcoming birthday party. Even though I would love to use the beach house, my instincts tell me this may not be a good idea. And, I don’t want to be rude or seem ungrateful. I was wondering what your advice would be?
Anxious in the Palisades
One challenge Butlers and Estate Managers face when working for HNW individuals is resisting the temptation to accept gifts and favors. However, handling this without integrity and restraint can spell death for those in our profession. Europe and the U.K. are more formal societies in this respect, and people are naturally wary of an overly friendly demeanor. Principals overseas are expert at practicing boundaries so this type of situation rarely arises. This is, however, commonplace in the U.S. and my experience is that saying no in the most creative and polite way, then immediately changing the subject is the best reaction.
I had a Butler friend in Beverly Hills, we’ll name him Harold, whose employer was giving him gifts and allowing him to drive the Rolls Royce. Everything was fine for a few months until one day his boss came home screaming about a dent in the car. Harold insisted he was not responsible and knowing his integrity, I feel confident vouching for him. His boss deducted the cost of repair from Harold’s paycheck, which was a substantial sum. Harold felt powerless to challenge him – which was proper as we are trained to “take it on the chin,” and accept consequences with grace.
Things didn’t go much better for Harold after that. His employer was now having him work 14 hour days and when Harold attempted to offer reasons why he was unable to stay late, his boss would reply, “Oh I see, you like me enough to take my gifts but not enough to give a little extra time.” Harold’s boss was a perfectly lovely man, however it is still a part of the human condition to give expecting something in return. Harold is no longer under his employ.
When being presented with gifts and favors, I have found it most effective to say things such as: “Thank you very much for your kindness sir,” or “you’re too generous madam, I couldn’t possibly,” Couple this with an excuse or change in subject like: “Shall I begin packing your suitcase now?” or “Honestly madam, I would rather use my car as it fits in the tight parking spots better and I won’t have to drive around for an hour to find a sizable space.” It’s always best to keep the relationship between staff and principal professional. After all, we are in the home, we are not of the home!