Tales From the Butler Academy: Etiquette Drills and Compassion

(This is part of the “Tales From the Butler Academy” section. Please start here.)

In Module 4—etiquette—I receive my first video assignment.  It’s a series of etiquette drills.  There are about twenty, each outlining a different tricky situation.  My job is to sketch out a more specific scenario if needed (I figured this out after the first round of submissions), and film myself, as the majordomo, responding to it.  The instructions emphasize, Acknowledge!  Resolve!  Redirect!  Acknowledge the problem and how the person feels; resolve it if possible (or, state why you can’t, if it’s illegal or such); redirect so as to smooth things over (“May I get you a drink?”). They also heavily imply that you will almost certainly be asked to film several rounds of redos.

So, I write up some notes and set up in my office.  My daily uniform is far from scandalous, but not the butler usual.  So I basically add a blazer and play with angles.  I do a quick check on my surroundings, moving the erotica novels I’ve written, for starters.  Books, journals, string lights, and Polaroids remain. I place an oversized stuffed bear in the canopied hammock chair swing across from where I sit in my desk chair.  What a look. I fire up Zoom on my laptop, place it on my desk, set it to record the session, and begin.  I read the drill number I’m doing, sketch the scenario, and then give my response.

It does, as the instructions also warned, feel a little silly.  “12A,” I read seriously.  Deep breath.  Shake my head.  “12A,” I repeat firmly.  I look at my notes.  No, I can’t do this.  I look up at the ceiling, exasperated.  “Do I look stupid yet?” 

This is the outtake I send Mistress and a few friends. 

I finally get the first round in.  Yes, there’s a lot of feedback, and a lot of redos requested.  A couple are deemed simply, “Fine, pass”, and others merely ask me to take the scenario one step further. But some get admittedly hilarious negative feedback. Yikes! reads one. I think your employer’s wife (who happens to also be your boss) might slap you if you responded like that!  

Yes, well, I think, I have some news for you about “my employer’s wife”… (who happens to be me). 

But the overall theme of the feedback is needing more compassion.  One issue is that I’m clinically low empathy.  And there are some scenarios I think I just struggle to relate to.  One sketches a scenario in which my employer is frustrated because the chauffeur has brought the wrong car around to pick them up for an important meeting, while the chauffeur has to go switch cars.  I laugh about this with a few friends.  Problems I wish I had. I’ve made it clear there isn’t any other staff here. 

But the thing—the thing I have to finally hit on to pass the drills—is that the scenario isn’t really about the car.  It isn’t really about the chauffeur.  It is about a human being having a stressful day, experiencing the straw that broke the camel’s back, and turning to their trusted majordomo for reassurance and, yes, compassion.  We’ve all done it—snapped over a ridiculous little thing because of an underlying serious stressor.  This important meeting is in a few minutes, and the chauffeur can’t get their job right.  Okay. 

So, I need to acknowledge what happened, that it is a problem (because, minor or not, that was a mistake on the chauffeur’s part), and that the employer has a right to be upset by that, and that I will proactively handle it before it happens again, because that’s my job.  And I need to do it with compassion.

It takes me three tries to pass that drill and one other.  The others take one or two.  But I grasp the importance of the compassion, and the how of delivering it, even if it’s still not a deep seated feeling or instinct. 

And really, the etiquette drills teach skills I need as a slave.  While kink protocol can be different, the core skill is the same.  Whether it’s knowing what to do when Mistress is upset over something small that is actually about something big, handling mistakes, or dealing with unruly or uninvited guests or vendors, a lot of the drills translate, either directly, or via the underlying skill.

While I turned to butler school more for hard skills and professional standards, the coursework also emphasizes again and again that as I learn each of those skills, they remain wrapped in soft skills, and need to be presented with the famous high end service touch that defines the butler industry.  And at the core of that is compassion.  

So, I’ve tried to carry that with me in the four modules and life since. 

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