Remains of My Pay

Perhaps the reader has a special talent for graciously answering the door, or a thing for white gloves. Or one's name is Jeeves.

Whatever the circumstances, might the gentleman or lady be interested in attending a school for butlers?

"People always think it's very old fashioned, that a butler is just standing there in the corner with a newspaper and a glass of champagne on a silver tray," said Rene Verkade, director of the International Butler Academy, located in Holland. "It's an old profession, but it is coming back in a whole, new world."

While someone born into a long line of butlers can be trained at his father's side on an old English estate, those Remains of the Day fans born without a silver tray in hand have to learn the fine art of "butling" elsewhere. That's where places like the academy come in.

Verkade's school is housed in the palatial Huis de Voorst estate, and has all the amenities — a yacht, jet and full staff — that a butler might have to manage for a wealthy employer. Some 18 new butlers graduate from the school every year and are sent off to places like England, Saudi Arabia, China, Australia, as well as the United States.

"We teach the American style, the English style and the Continental style," Verkade said. "People learn how to manage the house. We have a protocol trainer, a little bit of toast mastering, we teach them how to treat antiquities, linens, paintings, what you should do, what you don't do. We visit one of the finest hotels and study afternoon tea. We teach two days on security, or close protection, a little bit of cooking and chauffeuring.

"Of course," he took pains to point out, "you don't have to act like a chauffeur. You're the butler."

That distinction is not lost on Rachel Clough, a Pennsylvania-raised academy graduate and butler for an estate near Phoenix, Ariz. She sees herself not so much as a servant or stock character in a mystery novel as her boss's partner.

"The original reaction people have when you say you're a butler is, 'what do you do besides open the door?'" she said. "But butlery is more of an intellectual pursuit. It's a working relationship to accomplish your client's goals. It's not like I have no free will, no voice, no options."

And, she noted, "You don't have to put a British accent on."

While she's holding the door open for guests, Clough is simultaneously mentally reviewing her role for the day as caterer, bartender, livery manager, suitcase packer, schedule keeper, and etiquette advisor.

Even seemingly easy tasks can be dauntingly complicated. Take the simple mission of holding a seat out for a lady.

"You don't just yank out the chair," said Clough. "You grasp the back, tip the seat off the front two legs, hold up the back two legs, and lift it up and back.

"You quietly ask the lady if she's ready to sit down so no one else can hear, then, standing to her right or left, with one hand on the back of the chair and the other hand on the bottom or middle of the back, you put your foot on a hind leg parallel to the lady and gently push in using both arms and legs."

For Clough, though, it's probably the unspoken laws of loyalty to one's employer that can prove most tricky. Butlers receive lessons on how to handle an estate owner's more private matters, such as when there's a "foreign head in his bed."

"First and foremost, as a butler, you do not have the right to judge or condemn. That's not your place," she said. "In the mornings, you usually bring in a morning tray with coffee and newspaper and open the curtains. Should another person be in the bed as well, you'll serve them and ask if they want breakfast."

A career among the rich and famous on a luxurious estate doesn't come without its drawbacks, Clough said. You can't expect to dedicate your life to your employer and still demand a normal social life.

"If you want to be a butler you have to look at who you are and if you're willing to make that commitment. If you're not willing to make the sacrifices to provide the highest form of service, you won't last. It's something that's either in you or it's not."