Born To Serve – Butlers Are Back In Style

Though the market for butlers is centered in the UK and Arab countries, the super-rich everywhere are hiring. It is a job that requires very special training.

Always there, always discreet (Butler For You)
Always there, always discreet (Butler For You)
Katlen Trautmann

James is one of the best-known of all butlers. The manservant in the sketch "Dinner for One," a cult TV classic in Europe, South Africa, Australia and elsewhere, serves a meal of several courses to his elderly employer, Miss Sophie, and her four invisible (long dead) male guests. He pours glasses of sherry, wine, champagne and port for the guests, then drinks it all as he impersonates them toasting Miss Sophie.

That may be what butlering looks like in comedy sketches, but it's a long way from the reality of these highly qualified servants who, despite job opportunities elsewhere, are still mostly to be found in the UK and Arab world.

Sebastian Hirsch worked as a butler before opening his own agency for household staff, Butler For You, in 2006. "If you don't enjoy providing service, then you're not suited to this work," he says. The job of the butler is to run his employer's household, and help achieve optimal comfort in their daily life. "Butlers have to be excellent planners, or they lose oversight," says Mark Di Frangia, an American who has been working as a butler in Germany for 20 years. In his job, he not only travels with his employer, but often acts as private secretary.

A butler must be able to master social situations perfectly. He addresses his superiors in the correct manner, and escorts unwanted visitors out so courteously they think they're being paid a compliment. Being a man of the world, and speaking several languages, are crucial to the role says Di Frangia. A butler is like a kindly spirit – barely visible, but always present.

Thick skin required

"Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people today have old-school manners," says Karsten Lachmann, a 45-year-old veteran of the hotel industry who has been working as a butler for several years.

Accepting that his professional life is tied irrevocably to the way his employer lives is a must for a butler, although "a butler is not an underling" Hirsch stresses. Being able to overlook certain things is a plus, however. "You should keep an open mind, and your feelings shouldn't get hurt too easily," says Di Frangia. A butler also has to be able carry out unpleasant tasks without questioning the whys and wherefores.

Because butlers are so deeply involved in the lives of their employers, their bosses have to be able to count on their discretion. "Paul Burrell, Lady Diana's butler, is widely despised for spilling the beans," says Hirsch. Every butler should have job experience either in the hotel business or as cabin crew, in addition to attending butler school to get that extra polish.

Aside from institutions in the UK, the International Butler Academy in Valkenburg, Holland; the International Institute of Modern Butlers in Clearwater, Florida; the South African Butler Academy, and the Private Hotel School, also in South Africa, have excellent reputations. Programs last a few months and include both theory and practice. Karsten Lachmann, who graduated from the Dutch school, says: "I learned to stay balanced and empowered even under stressful conditions, or when I'd had little sleep."

Aristocrats, industrialists, and CEOs hire butlers. There's also demand in luxury hotels and on private yachts. "The job market for serious, highly qualified servants is expanding," says Hirsch. "Right now, London is the Eldorado for butlers." But Arab countries run a close second. And while butlering is essentially a male preserve, Hirsch says he also regularly gets requests for females butlers.

Building a butlering business requires patience. Candidates are thoroughly vetted. Hirsch follows up references and whether or not there is a police record. Job interviews can take place over the space of days -- applicants are placed for a kind of trial run with potential employers. "It's difficult to place beginners," says Hirsch.

At the same time, no one should expect a life-long position: the situations of the employers tend to fluctuate rapidly. Moreover, having a family of one's own is pretty much out of the question for a butler.

The job is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. But Sebastian Hirsch says he can't imagine more interesting work. "I truly enjoy spoiling my clients. I can't think of anything better," he says.

Read the original article in German

photo - ButlerForYou

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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