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. 

I’m a Slave; Why Am I Going to Butler School?

When my father died and I inherited his estate and life insurance policy, I used the assets very practically.  Everything basically went into real estate or high interest savings, following the advice of those I trusted, mostly Mistress, who let me make the estate managing choices at the time; later, we married and fully merged our finances. 

My mother (my parents had divorced) was a good adviser, too, and—perhaps especially watching me flounder a little in the wake of the grief and trauma of discovering my father’s death, the shock of becoming a landlord, and the stress of handling probate court proceedings pro se—had another piece of advice: that (without going too crazy) I should use some of the inheritance to treat myself to something that was previously out of reach.

There was something I’d been thinking about, too, and I did some research, and moved money to a separate savings account, naming it “Pipe Dream”.

Butler school. 

There were a lot of other logistics, though, and the dream wasn’t attainable yet.  

I needed time to attend, not still wrapped in estate managing; there was still major work to do on my health to be fit for that kind of travel (most of them were programs of multiple weeks or months abroad); I couldn’t yet drive.  The pandemic struck.

I was also very aware that I wasn’t the typical demographic, as an American woman in my early twenties, and so much else.  I would need a vanilla cover story, for starters. 

Still, I dreamt and worked on what I could.  I put out fires and cleared space in my life; I improved my health.  In the meantime, I wrote prolifically, I published my first book, I planned to start teaching kink education classes, I grew as a slave, taking up new skills and duties. 

In January 2021, days after my twenty-third birthday and first kink education class as the presenter, I learned that the International Institute of Modern Butlers was now offering an online private residence butler school course.  It was a four hundred hour, one on one, self paced correspondence course, with all of the same material as a traditional butler school.  This eliminated a lot of difficult logistics.

Elated—and with Mistress’ blessing—I signed up the very same day. 

But that’s enough explanation: the question I promised the answer to is why

Because out there in the vanilla world, there are resumes and qualifications and certifications and degrees and standards.  I don’t preach these as The Answers; I didn’t even finish high school, and if anything, feel better off for it.  But in the kink world, there aren’t really those Standard Items you look for on a resume.  While there are big names, there’s not really a I Went To Harvard of kink.  You make sense of each individual’s experience via once off classes or intensives they’ve attended, personalized training or mentoring they’ve received, skills and experience they can prove, awards and plaudits they’ve been given, community service they’ve done and involvement they’ve had, so on.  And there are a lot of pros to that.

But it left me at a bit of a loss on how to feel like I’d thoroughly learned the basics of service.  More than that, I noticed that a lot of “vanilla” standards and education seemed to be missing in the kink scene.  It seemed like the second you were doing something in a kink environment, it was somehow different.  It seemed that if you did, say, the cooking, as an act of submission to someone else, suddenly it was service, and almost not cooking.  There were classes on service: how to negotiate it, service philosophy and archetypes, what is service, incorporating protocols, a few specialty items like tea service or bootblacking… but to learn even relatively basic kitchen skills, like safety standards—and certainly more advanced skills—I had to turn back to “vanilla” resources. And some people didn’t seem to understand that it was still kink/service relevant education, or why they might themselves pursue those “vanilla” cooking skills beyond the very basic, if their interest was in service. 

So I made it a bit of a mission to blend the worlds.  As I blended those culinary, housekeeping, secretarial, so on, skills into my own service, I started teaching classes, presenting those skills and standards I’d had to use “vanilla” resources to learn as service skills, framed them in a kink friendly environment, included how to add the service touch, tried not to neglect the soft skills and psychology involved. I integrated that into my kink related educational and fiction writing. 

I wanted to give Mistress the best (that I was capable of), not average hard skills prettily dressed up as service, and I wanted to help others be able to offer the same.  And if I wanted to offer something unique, in my service and in my writing and teaching, I had to go outside the kink scene’s preexisting norms.  

The answer remained right in front of me: a vanilla role prided for general high end service. 

The traditional butler. 

So, butler school it was.

More than anything else, I want to prove that the worlds aren’t so different after all.  I feel like by taking the course, I can prove that professional, vanilla private service standards can be mirrored by “just” a kinky slave, and I’m probably far from the seemingly most qualified person in that category to do it, just someone with some determination, a dream, and a bit of luck.

Really, it is a role at its core very similar to mine in a lot of ways.  Other than terminology changes (Mistress becomes my employer) and minor details (like disguising my somewhat untraditional daily uniform), my only lies in my vanilla cover story are of omission.  In a lot of ways, I think my life is actually pretty accurately portrayed in my assignments.  I tell real day to day anecdotes, base evaluations on my real, daily actions, service tasks, and routines. 

I try to get the most out of the course that I can that might be truly applicable—and there’s plenty that is. 

I’m currently on Module 8 of 22, and plan to really pick up the pace in the new year.  But I do still have a lot going on, health to consider, and the course material is a refreshing challenge, but a challenge nonetheless. 

And to continue directly sharing this experience in writing, I post this as the beginning of the “Tales From the Butler Academy” section on Service Slave Secrets.