Posts Tagged 'london'

Super Servants, Super Service

The English Manner has long used the phrase ‘super-service’ when training in private households, yachts, planes and hotels.  To our minds, this means the employee reaching their utmost potential and giving 110% to their tasks, ensuring that nothing is left to chance and that the needs of every guest or household are anticipated before they even know they desire it!

Domestic service has become fashionable in the media in the past few weeks thanks to the fabulous ‘Downton Abbey’ and a revival of the old favourite, ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, and we applaud this as there is no doubt that working for others in this way has become something to be looked down upon in the eyes of the world, and is no longer recognised for what it is: a fabulous career path with the potential to travel, broaden your horizons and skill levels; and good potential rewards – and relationships -  for life.

Downton Abbey staff

The staff of ITV's hit Downton Abbey

But the tide is turning and we are getting daily enquiries for traditional training with a modern twist – for the ‘super-servant’ – a personal concierge who can multitask (women do this as a matter of course!) juggling diaries and schedules, dinner parties and driving, school runs and swimming pool maintenance, alongside purchasing property, wines and antiques and balancing portfolios of fine art with treasury bonds.

Economically it made sense for staff to live in, now they are earning so much money in these high profile roles that they often own their own homes, and without the financial need, they and their employers welcome the privacy and space afforded by shutting the front door at the end of the day, unless they can afford the mews house next door!

Days though are usually long, and often involve extensive overseas travel, constantly changing schedules, and sometimes an innate lack of understanding of any form of private life or personal ties.  These roles are not for the encumbered, they are ideal for the sophisticated with an eye for detail, with an understanding of how to enjoy the finest things in life, without crossing the line.  Both parties have to learn to keep their distance otherwise disaster strikes; nannies have always accompanied the family on outings but did not usually join dinner parties, and in a bygone era, everyone knew their place.  Most people under the age of 60 do not have any personal experience of private staff whatsoever.  As a result, our attitudes have changed, and most employers now feel uncomfortable around their staff, either over compensating by charm or, more often than not, by being standoffish and plain rude.  It is our task to educate the employer as much as the employee, and show them how to respect those who work for them and with them.  If that is achieved, high morale and retention follow.

Most staff at the highest levels now have their own assistants but the hierachy is nothing like the days of ‘Downton Abbey’ when the local villagers would vie to work in the ‘big house’ rather than in the mill, the mine or even on the land.  In London most junior domestic staff come from overseas, precisely because working for others has been regarded as the lowest of the low by we British for some years, and we are trying hard at The English Manner to educate young people to start to train for domestic service.  Many who might have taken a gap year will now miss out on a university place:  what better way to start work than to train for a secure household as a mother’s help, cook or housekeeper?  Our sister company, The Household Academy, runs regular classes for traditional training in these roles, as well as bespoke training for those who may have already begun their career but who want to make the leap to House Manager or PA, and need to acquire the extra skills and confidence to do so.

London is now home to a vast tranche of overseas wealth as well as UK based super-rich such as hedge fund managers and City bankers.  Money rules now more than ever before and with that wealth comes the need for presentable, well spoken staff who can turn their hand to any task.  Let’s put some pride back into the household and instead of allowing the plum jobs to be taken by those who have seen the opportunity from Australia, America or Italy, encourage our young people, as well as those who perhaps are leaving military service careers in early middle age, to go back to basics and train in the traditional methods of private service but with a modern twist:  money rules, and the world has to prove it can rise up to the challenge of servicing it.

Alexandra Messervy
Founder, The English Manner

RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Blooms from 2008's show

Blooms from 2008's show

The first of the major events in the season is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show. For newcomers to the event, it may be interesting to note that this event has not always been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Before it arrived in SW3, the society used Chiswick House (this ceased in 1858), the site of what is now the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, and then under canvas in Temple Garden on the Embankment, before moving to where it is today.

There is no stringent dress code, but smarter visitors wear blazers and ties. Ladies often wear skirts and jackets or suits, but not usually hats.  However, it is the end of spring and nearing the start of summer, so the weather can be mixed. Try to prepare for rain and shine and possibly have a rain hat, rather than an umbrella which gets in the way in crowds and can block other people’s views.

Members of the RHS have the advantage of being able to book tickets in advance and two days are set-aside for members only. There is also a private Royal preview which The Queen always attends and other family members, on the Monday, with an evening Charity Gala Evening, used by the great and the good for corporate entertainment. This is followed on Tuesday and Wednesday for RHS Members and then three days for the public, with a fabulous opportunity on Saturday for bargains as stall holders and garden designers sell off their ‘used’ wares.

There are lots of loos but they do border on the primitive and long queues can be expected for the ladies’!

If you are still in any doubt as to the event’s protocol or what to wear, please do feel free to reply to this blog with any questions you may have. Alternatively, please visit our main website for more information: http://www.theenglishmanner.com

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Thanks a Million

I was staying in a bed and breakfast earlier this week and my host and I started discussing good manners, in particular thank-you letters. She told me the most brilliant story, which shows that you should always write such letters after receiving a present or any sort of hospitality.

As children, her sister and her were always sent one pound for Christmas and respective birthdays from a distant relative on their father’s side. At the time, £1 was worth considerably more than it is today. The one-pound kept coming and both sisters wrote, without fail a letter to say thank you to the relative. By the time the sisters for in their mid-forties, the pounds were still being sent and one sister (not my host – her sibling) decided that it was a bit silly now as £1 wasn’t worth much at all and writing a thank-you letter was ridiculous. However, my host still kept on writing the letters.

One year, the money stopped. My host got a call from the relative’s solicitor to say that the relative had died and in her will had left her £250,000 but the other sister was left nothing. The will stated that my host had been left the money because she had “better manners and always said thank-you”.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

In Season: What To Wear

Two weeks ago, I commented on The Season in general. Now, as the start is less than a month away, here are a few dos and don’ts on dress codes to help you navigate this social juggernaut for some of the main events.

Chelsea Flower Show
Probably the most relaxed event in terms of dress code, and it is all in the entrance here.  Take the bus, tube or arrive by taxi, but be prepared to queue at the gates so arrive as early as you can.  Essentially, you are here to look at the flowers and gardens, and not on a fashion parade, so understated investment dressing is the key here:  depending on the weather go for light suits or dresses and jackets, and do remember a lot of walking is involved, so wear comfortable shoes.  If you are attending the private view then cocktail dress of course, but the men can get by all day in a crisp blazer and chinos with well-polished loafers.

Polo
Don’t, whatever you do, dress down.  Polo is probably the most high-profile of the season’s events, and attracts not only an international crowd but also seems to be a magnet for the celebrity crowd, from jet setting movie star to B-lister wannabee.  If the weather is good, team a pretty summer dress with the highest Jimmy Choos, or wear a chic trouser suit.  The latest designer sunglasses are a must-have – but do make sure that if you are invited into the Royal tea tent, you remove them out of the glare!  Men can get by with a blazer and well pressed trousers – the more one imitates the well-dressed smooth good looks of George Clooney, the better!

Royal Ascot
416_ascot_royal_416x300Morning suits and top hats are de-rigeur, as of course are the most fabulous hats.  Trousers for ladies are now permitted, but skirts must not be far above the knee, and if you are hoping to enter the Royal Enclosure you will need to apply for a sponsored badge many months in advance, with a reference from a member of the Royal Enclosure.  Top hats should always be black silk, and morning suits can be grey or black – my own preference is grey.  Ladies Day is the traditional one to ‘be seen’, when even the more conservative hat-wearer can really push the boat out.  A word of caution though:  if you are not used to wearing a hat, practice putting it on and off and wearing it around the house several times before the big day, and learn to relax – otherwise you will have severe neck strain and a bad headache before you go near the champagne!

Cowes
The cult brands of Jack Wills, Musto and Joules will be raking in the money this year as sailing appears to have taken off again – if it ever went out of fashion.  For spectators, stick to looking the part in deck shoes, sunglasses, windproof gear and a chance to wear that perfect Hermes headscarf – and there are plenty of wonderful wellies around if the weather is wet.  A plug here for the wonderful work of the RNLI – spare a thought for this entirely volunteer-led organisation which aims to raise some £131 million a year to maintain the fleet of rescue craft and on-shore lifeguards.  There is rarely a day when crews do not risk their lives to save others at sea so, if you are attending any sailing event this year, pop a coin into the nearest donation box;  you never know when you may need them!

Alexandra Messervy
Founder, The English Manner

What to Wear When Working

There has been much talk in the media recently about dress codes during office hours, particularly for ladies: are such stringent dress codes old fashioned and patronising? Or do our clothes say more about us than we may think?

An increasing number of international businesses are sending employees on courses to learn basic business etiquette and presentation skills.  The media has made much of this in recent days, highlighting the importance of dress for women in particular, and when interviewed on BBC Radio 2, columnist Amanda Platell remarked that she writes her newspaper column from her home in full business dress and lipstick to give her the appropriate ‘corporate’ persona.

windows_macWhat we wear, and how we wear it, can speak volumes. It is important to get the right look for the right occasion. Look at the advertisements for Apple computers, where they use anthropomorphise Apple and Windows computers. The former, whose machines are sleek, all in one and appeal mainly to a younger, more creative market, use a hip, young, trendy man, whereas the Windows character is a suited, balding man with a slight paunch. The juxtaposition instantly conveys two very different images.

Having said that, we would not advocate that for work you based your style on the Apple man. It’s about getting a middle ground. A suit is timeless and can be worn by any generation. In business it is much better to dress more conservatively than you may do in your own time.

For the ladies, too much make up can allude to a lack of confidence – less is always more; skirts up to the nostrils are never appropriate: ideally, the hem should be just below the knee.

The English Manner are running a course on contemporary business skills in March, where dress-codes, presentation and much more will be covered. For more information, please click here.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner


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