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SIGNS OF UNREST IN THE DOMESTIC WORLD
ENGLISH SERVANTS AND SERVICE
THE ENGLISH HOUSEKEEPER'S POINT OF VIEW
THE "LADY HELP"
WORKINGS OF THE ENGLISH DOMESTIC MACHINE
THE CHEAP BELGIAN SERVANT AND THE ENERGETIC
"BONNE A TOUT FAIRE" AND HER DUTIES
FRENCH HOUSEHOLD ECONOMICS
CUISINIÈRE AND VALET DE CHAMBRE
RESPONSIBILITY OF THE FRENCH HOUSEKEEPER
LOW MORAL STATUS OF EUROPEAN DOMESTIC SERVANTS
THE ARISTOCRATIC "NOUNOU"
THE SOUBRETTE IN REAL LIFE
SCHEDULE OF DAY'S WORK IN A PARIS HOUSEHOLD
HARD-WORKING GERMAN WOMAN SERVANT
GOOD, BUT UNSYMPATHETIC, SWISS SERVANTS
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY ITALIAN MAID-OF-ALL-WORK
PERSONNEL OF THE BIG EUROPEAN HOTEL
VERSATILE HALL PORTER
SERVANTS AND THE SERVANT QUESTION
THERE is a servant question in Europe. Students of domestic economics, reading between the lines, say that there are significant signs of unrest among the serving classes. To the uninitiated, however, the usual problems of domestic service seem largely nonexistent; obviously, they have not passed beyond the stage of symptoms. Good, capable, abundant and cheap (according to American standards) servants can still be had all over Europe.
Service is respectable, and often hereditary, and in the matter of treating servants, monarchial Europe, that is Continental Europe, is more democratic than America. In the middle-class European family, while the servants perform menial work of drudgery under conditions unthinkable in our land of super-conveniences, they are usually treated more as one of the family which they serve than here. It may be this, quite as much as tradition and need, that makes servants contented with their obviously onerous lot on the Continent, and keeps them for years, or for a lifetime, in the same employ.
From England come the most formal complaints. This is but natural in a land where personal service has been brought so near perfection. The more nearly perfect a machine, the more noticeable any flaw in its operation. "Servants are too independent,'' says the English mistress, "they are becoming more difficult to get, and every year are demanding higher wages." "They are spoilt," continues the housekeeper, forgetting that it is she who is the spoilt one. All this may be true, but English servants are still the best examples of the personal retainer.
The English servant has no wish to be anything but a servant. The process of "improving his condition" never goes beyond his desire for improvement. The apparent unrest simply means that there is a movement among the serving classes for an amelioration of the conditions under which they work more than anything else, for old-time conditions of servitude have been maintained on lines which are astonishingly near those of feudal times. The mistress of the household is even yet a dictator in her realm. What her servants wear, who their friends may be, limiting recreation, as well as their working hours, she controls absolutely, and, to all intents and purposes, their religion and politics are under strict surveillance. "As the Squire and the Vicar say," is still the creed of rural England, and in each of these instances it is the wives of these solons who have the regulation of the servant question in their charge. It is only recently that the housemaid was allowed to ride out on a bicycle, while over be-ribboned hats, even on "evenings out," are still frowned upon. The English servant has been brought up to know her place. Little cause for wonder when she begins to define that place herself that the foundations of the English system of serving get a shock! On the whole, the feeling is strong in England against a servant forgetting her place. The English servant still has an ingrained respect for "her betters" in spite of the strides of socialism. There is a tendency creeping in that their children might seek to rise in the world, and this is what has shaken the nerves of the English housekeeper – that working girls should be allowed to look forward to any other occupation than that of going out into service as did their parents before them.
It is the "board schools" that are unfitting the working classes for domestic service. This is the theory of the English housekeeper. "Board schools," that inadequate English form of a public school, have only provided compulsory education for little more than a quarter of a century, but the upper classes regard the plan of purveying education for the masses as the beginning of troubles that their grandparents never even suspicioned.
The English first set the complicated and elaborate household machine to running smoothly, but now they must watch out that they are not caught in the cogs. English servants have formed themselves into a vigilant band of censors and expect their employers to live up to their positions, incidentally refraining from bringing discredit upon them. English servants having been trained by Church and State to the service of their superiors hold their superiors, in turn, up to their duties. They seek not only to guard themselves against encroachment from the competition of fellow-workers, but from their employers as well. Nothing so demoralises a servant as to turn in and do work one's self. Under such circumstances a servant would let you know in a politely impertinent way that you have demeaned yourself, that you are "no lady." She would much prefer being overworked herself to suffer the ignominy of having a mistress who could so far lose sight of her dignity as to be willing to do any work that belonged to the province of her maid. No labour union was ever more ingeniously safeguarded, and the mistress becomes a "scab" if inclination or circumstance impel her to put her hand to more than the lever which sets the domestic machine in motion.
A rather curious development, said to be the outcome of two things – the difficulty of getting general servants, and the necessities of a large class of "reduced gentlewomen " – has brought about the rise of the "lady help," an anomalous thing, only possible in a land of compromise, such as England. The "lady help" will perform practically any duty, but the fact must never be lost sight of that she is a "lady." The etiquette varies somewhat, but she may demand that she have her tea with her employer, or even that she take her meals with them. Beyond this she is not usually intrusive. This new phase of the servant question has not been in operation long enough to test its practical working. The "lady" servant asks slightly higher wages on the ground of bringing a superior intelligence to bear on the domestic problem, but doubtless she counts somewhat on the value of her dignified position.
Caste is as strongly defined in the servants' hall as in the drawing-room. There is no grade of English servant but what is able to, and does, look down on another, and the chauffeur or coachman (for whom the employer is taxed by the government for the privilege of having them at his beck and call) naturally feel very much above the scullion or the dairymaid.
In some respects the workings of the great houses are simpler than that of a more modest establishment. Where there is a housekeeper to whom all others must look, and who is responsible for the running of the house, the actual cares of the mistress are much lightened. It is a household within a household, of which the butler and the housekeeper are the heads, and hold positions of equal dignity.
One just cause for the servant unrest in England is that arising from the economy of food. The larger the army of servants the more niggardly, very often, is the policy of the house towards the food supply of the servants' hall. The grander the establishment the more diligently must small economies be practised, especially on the scale of the steadily decreasing incomes of the majority of land-owners.
English servants are better lodged than their fellows on the Continent, but that they are better nourished is certainly open to doubt. The food for each servant is carefully apportioned – just so many pounds of meat, bread, tea, sugar, milk, a certain allowance of the latter being for puddings, it being often explicitly stated as to whether puddings for the servants are to be milk puddings, or just "plain boiled." The careful housekeeper sees to it that not an ounce extra is ever given out. Each servant may demand a daily allowance of beer, or is otherwise entitled to "beer money"; this at least is the traditional procedure, though not always enforced to-day. Anything beyond this régime is at the expense of the servant. Board wages – when the house is closed, the family being away – are usually allowed at the rate of ten shillings a week. What would the well-fed American servant say to being expected to live on two dollars and a half a week?
The "Employers' Liability Act" has recently become a law in Britain and adds considerably to the complication of the domestic problem. If a servant is injured in service, even though it be through her own negligence, the employer is liable for an indemnity. One insures against this by the payment of a cash premium, which automatically adds to what one pays in assumed responsibility. If wages are creeping up in England, they still seem, to us, within reason. A general servant at a hundred dollars a year, even if her ability as a cook is questionable, does not seem unduly expensive, and parlour maids are cheap from sixty to eighty dollars a year. It is in the aggregate that English service is costly. The staff required to run an average house and family is from four to six – cook, butler and parlour maid (or two maids), scullery maid, gardener and chauffeur, or coachman, according to taste. The chauffeur adds another complication; he ranks above the old-time coachman, and holds himself high above the other servants, is usually catered for apart, and indeed is the subject of special consideration all along the line.
Far down on the long list of English servants is that peculiar London type, the charwoman, most lowly of menials, whose life is spent in the grimy labour which has been evolved as a result of the uneconomically arranged London house. For a shilling for two or three hours' work, she blacks the grates, carries coals up, and ashes down, many flights, and sweeps the floors on her knees with a hand-brush and dustpan. Faithful in her work but untruthful in speech, kind-hearted and sloppy, coming to her day's work on the strength of only a cup of tea, making up deficiency on surreptitious "beers," she has, with true British pride, a wholesome respect for her work and the knowledge that there is some one still farther down the scale whom she may yet patronise. It is these qualities, after all, that conduce to the still unchallenged superiority of the English servant.
English servants are trained for their careers. The cottager's daughter is taught to arrange a tea-tray, that a neat apron is a necessity, and that she must say "thank you, ma'am," though the old-fashioned bob-curtesy is a relic of the early Victorian period seldom seen. One may still run across it, but it only exists, like rare birds, in out of the way spots.
The superior English servant radiates comfort, but one must be of her race to get the best results from her service. No matter how circumspectly the stranger, coming to England to make her home, models the conduct of her establishment on English lines, the attitude of the servant is slightly supercilious. She is made to feel that she is not of the elect.
Wages are lower all over the Continent than in England. In France from thirty to fifty francs (six to ten dollars) is the wage of a general servant. In Germany it is less, and the work is harder. For cheap labour the Belgian woman is unequalled. In the matter of throwing pails of water about, and putting a shine on things, the white-capped Dutch girl has no peer, and works at a nominal price, though the stranger in Holland generally finds most things very expensive.
Along with the fear of a diminishing population in France comes the scare of a famine in servants. The number of female domestic servants has been steadily decreasing in the last fifty years, so that there has been an influx of a cheaper kind from the more necessitous countries, notably Switzerland, Italy and Belgium. Still, the bonne à tout faire, the stolid peasant woman of the old French provinces, is the mainstay of the French ménage.
The average French household is economically run with but one general servant – the bonne à tout faire, or at most two – a cuisinière and a femme de chambre.
The servant in France is on a different plane from that of her English sister. Her relations with the family are more intimate, and she shares the family cares and pleasures alike, being really one of them. It would be impossible, in many cases, to compress the expansive French temperament into the formal, impassive mould of the English servant.
The French bonne à tout faire, the general maid of all work, is a faithful animal, a product of the fields of France; her only emotion is work, her only pleasure to lay by, sou by sou, a meagre dot in the hope that it will gain her a husband – that is if she is young. More often she spends her life in the service of one family, her small hoardings secreted in the traditional bank of a French peasant, the bas de laine. She cooks, does the ordinary wash of the family, sews, and mends all the family stockings. She rises at break of day and is the last to retire.
Where there is but one servant the mistress is expected to, and does, work side by side with her. The French servant would be more likely to think her mistress was not a lady if she did not turn her hand to the housework, and besides the French housekeeper is always a domestic worker, all except the real woman of society, a class which scarcely exists outside Paris. The bonne goes about her work in the morning in her petticoat; presumably it is for economical reasons, as she does not don her dress until late in the day.
Where the bonne sweeps the room, madame is supposed to dust, to wipe the dishes and to help in the making of the beds and chamber work. The natural outcome of this is that maid and mistress are on a friendly footing. This brings up the objection to the transplanted housekeeper from other lands of too much familiarity, and the friendly interest that is sometimes a real charm in the French servant might conceivably become an interference.
As a French servant is charged for all the breakage, there is less of the usual slaughter of household crockery here than in England or America.
The bonne à tout faire is paid from thirty to fifty francs a month, according as to whether she is in the country or the city. The Parisian servant commands the highest wages, though that of itself does not always imply the most capable service. The French servant is quite accustomed to a strict régime in spite of the social latitude which is allowed. No one practises small economies so well as the French housekeeper. It is she who carries the keys and everything is under lock. Every end of the loaf is accounted for and even candle ends are saved. Lumps of sugar are counted out as if they were coin. In spite of this the perquisites of the French servant are openly tolerated, particularly that commission on all household purchases, which, by unwritten law, amounts to a sou in a franc. Naturally this petty graft comes out of the household; the shopkeepers do not tax their profits to meet this extortion. Some effort has been made to counteract this custom, and at the same time reduce household expenses by allowing the servant a certain percentage on any saving which may be made in the household running expenses, such as heating, lighting and the cost of staples used in cooking. This implies a very good working knowledge on the part of the mistress as to the real cost of things, and in that way makes for a valuable knowledge of home economics. It is thus that wasteful tendencies on the part of servants are controlled.
The cuisinière considers as her right this danse du panier, as it is called, and she will likely enough leave her employ if she is not allowed the privilege of going alone to market, or should her mistress watch her purchases too closely.
A combination frequently seen in the French household is the married couple, the wife serving as cook, or cuisinière, the husband as valet de chambre. Dividing the work among themselves they are thus able to keep all perquisites in the family. The functions of the valet de chambre are intimate, but one gets used to a man-servant about the house after experiences with ship stewards, the silk-clad Arabs who glide about the corridors of North African hotels, and the Swiss-German who prepares your bath in the famous spas.
The valet de chambre brings madame her morning chocolate, places it discreetly beside the bed and retires; he valets monsieur, does the rooms, waits on the table, and in toto combines the duties of butler, footman and chambermaid.
Where the combination is a cuisinière and a femme de chambre, the duties of the latter are practically the same as those of the valet de chambre, except that, in addition, she has a certain amount of laundry work which she must also mend and keep in order, besides assisting in any plain sewing to be done. Under such an arrangement the cook is expected to take care of the salon and salle à manger, in addition to her kitchen duties and the marketing, which latter for her is really a recreation. Where there are children the femme de chambre is supposed to occupy herself to some extent with their needs.
A housekeeper in France has great responsibilities attached to her position. Theoretically, she is responsible for the moral conduct of her servants. Not only must she care for them in illness, but should any harm come to a young girl in her employ the parents could hold her responsible, the law regarding the servant as a member of the family of her employer. In Paris, it is true, this is virtually a dead letter, for the immorality of the Parisian domestic servant is flagrant. Any consideration of this aspect of the case is usually met by a shrug of the shoulders; the French are a cynical race; "if she is a good servant, what more could one ask?"
The low moral status of women servants is generally recognised throughout Europe as a result of the difficulties with which marriage is hedged about, though more probably in many instances it is as a result of the last feeble flickerings of a feudal system which took no account of the overlord's obligations towards a menial. Things are better in England; the moral standard among servants is higher, outwardly at least, but there are sturdy, self-respecting working parents who say that the great country-house, with its gay week-end parties, is no place for a young girl. This is another phase of the servant question.
A picturesque figure in Continental cities whose functions keep her in the eye of the public, is the nursemaid, and to her is largely due the credit of preserving the national dress of her country. The Spanish-Catalan nurse wears the black lace mantilla draped gracefully over her head and held by long, gold pins, while in Italy the charming Neapolitan costume is the favourite livery of the nurse; the folded white head dress, the coral necklace, the laced bodice and apron, with its coloured bands, dress up the Italian nursemaid who still carries baby wrapped in the same style of swaddling clothes as those of the Lucca della Robbia infants. The English nursemaid is a symphony in grey and white, with a close-fitting black bonnet, with white floating strings, who must look continually immaculate on a pittance of from six to ten pounds a year.
The profession of nursemaid in Paris is almost exclusively in the hands of the little Breton girls, whose dainty coiffes, black dresses and silken aprons form the badge of the Parisian children's nurse. They are among the most reliable of French types of servitors, though rarely paid above ten dollars a month, more often but seven or eight. The "nounou," the nursing nurse, is the aristocrat of the profession. With floating cloak and ribbon head-dress of bright-coloured streamers, her charge smothered in laces on a pillow in her arm, she is the most picturesque adjunct of the beautiful gardens of Paris. She is the queen of that portion of the Bois set apart for the use of children, undefiled by the automobile, a symphony in blue or rose. The "nounou" of the chic Parisian must be as dainty as her mistress, who furnishes her charming costume free of cost, including the ruched bonnet composed of many yards of twelve-inch ribbon, often of the value of her employer's own hat. The "nounou" carries herself haughtily, but her very trade tends to a life of immorality. A wage of twenty-five dollars a month is too strong a temptation not to keep her in service.
The soubrette seems to us such a reminder of the stage that we rarely think of her except as tripping before the footlights, tossing her head under its coquettish cap, hands in the pockets of her beribboned apron. The soubrette in real life, however, in the character of lady's maid, plays an important róle in the social drama of fashionable life. Her intimate relations with her mistress often make her a confidante. No gay French farce is ever presented but shows up the little soubrette, the guardian of the secrets of the boudoir, and the convenient go-between in the ménage à trois. Such a play reflects the versatile functions of the soubrette with considerable fidelity. Madame often consults her maid's taste; as a hair-dresser she has no equal; her deftness with chiffons makes her an invaluable assistant in the intricacies of the toilet of the woman of fashion, and altogether she is one of the least to be spared of French feminine servants.
The French lady's maid is most valued by the woman of the world, whatever may be her nationality. Even the Englishwoman replaces her more reliable, hard-working English girl with the vraie Parisienne when the purse permits. The exchange costs about fifty per cent more, but the Englishwoman considers that she gains this in "smartness." "The lady's maid as an economic factor in life is worth what she costs," says the Englishwoman; "she saves the small outside expenses." Besides the personal service that she renders, the French maid usually has a working knowledge of dressmaking and ought even to be able to run together a gown if necessary.
The English servant still dies in service and is laid away in the village churchyard in the shadow of the escutcheoned tomb of the house she has served, usually so well, or it may be that she will have been retired on a pension. In France the State, so fond of giving decorations, more theatrically rewards the faithful servant by giving her a medal for a certain number of years of continuous service, also a small sum of money. Truly the servant question is great!
The disposition of the time of the servants of a Paris household is usually about as follows:
In a household of three servants, a woman cook, a butler and a chambermaid or parlour maid.
7:00 A.M. Preparing of the petit déjeuner and general making ready for the day's work.
8:30 A.M. Marketing.
breakfast, the preparing
of sundry desserts for the master's déjeuner
12:00 NOON. Master's déjeuner.
1 to 1:30 P. M. Servants' déjeuner.
Afternoon devoted to the cleaning up of cooking
and eating utensils,
dishes, etc., and the
7:00 P.M. Dinner.
8 to 8:30 P.M. Servants' dinner, cleaning of dinner dishes, etc.
General cleaning. – Monday afternoons: kitchen and cupboard, windows, etc. Tuesday: the range and its appurtenances. Wednesday: cupboard shelving, plate racks, etc. Thursday: walls, ceiling baseboards, etc. Friday: all brass and copper cooking utensils. Saturday: floors thoroughly cleaned, which, however, are usually washed down every day.
Make and light
fires, polish boots, brush men's clothing, prepare the salle
manger for déjeuner,
P.M. Lay table for dinner, serve same, clear away, and at ten o'clock make ready the sleeping-rooms.
Monday morning: Wax and polish halls and one sleeping-room.
Afternoon: Clean silver and copper and brass in dining-room.
morning: Clean thoroughly
wax and polish floor of salle
à manger, clean
Afternoon: Attend callers.
Wednesday morning: Polish furniture of salle à manger, clean thoroughly one sleeping-room.
Afternoon: Clean and polish lighting fixtures, windows and mirrors.
Thursday morning: Clean thoroughly one sleeping-room.
Afternoon: Clean and polish mirrors and fixtures of small salon.
Friday morning: Wax and polish stairs and banisters, clean thoroughly bathroom.
Afternoon: Clean brasses.
Saturday morning: Clean thoroughly small salon.
Afternoon: Clean thoroughly pantry cup-boards, trays, etc.
At all times the butler is supposed to be able to arrange his work in such a manner as to be presentable for receiving callers.
CHAMBERMAID (FEMME DE CHAMBRE) OR PARLOUR MAID
Awaken children, serve the petit
déjeuner, clean lamps
fixtures, brush dresses of mistress,
Afternoon: Sewing and ironing. In winter close windows at sundown. Arrange beds for the night.
Make up list of soiled linen for laundry and put that which
is to be
washed in the house to soak.
Tuesday: Wash household linen and mend.
Wednesday: Sewing and mending.
Saturday: Clean thoroughly and arrange linen cupboard.
In an establishment with but two domestics, a cuisinière and a femme de chambre, much the same sequence 'of operations would take place, with the extra cleaning of halls and rooms falling equally upon the two, the chambermaid serving also as parlour maid and attending the door.
With but one servant, the general maid of all work, or bonne à tout faire, will of necessity need the aiding hand once and again of the mistress of the house, or by the supplanting by an occasional extra day's labour called in from outside.
Mornings: Salle à manger, petit déjeuner, salon, marketing and making up the sleeping-rooms aided by the mistress.
days one apartment
to be thoroughly cleaned. Déjeuner
to be served at noon.
All this, assuming that the family meals are of the simplest order and that little or no entertaining is undertaken, and that the mistress does many of the light errands and largely occupies herself with the children in case there are any.
A good general servant can be got in the country districts in Germany for as little as fifty dollars a year, maybe even less, but she will do wonders on that two hundred and fifty marks, dressing neatly in heavy homespun and woolens that do not often have to be replenished, eating her frugal black bread and sausage, provided for her by the house, without a grumble, even laying by money in the savings bank.
One of the principal points of disfavour for domestic service which is manifesting itself in Germany is the wretched way in which a servant is often housed, frequently sleeping in a dark cupboard, without light or air - a mere hole in the wall that cannot be used for anything else.
The German woman labourer is the hardest worked of menials; she often does a man's work in addition to her own. She it is who cleans the streets and removes the garbage. It is nothing strange, then, to learn that she is going more and more into factory work, which the growing industrial boom in Germany is opening up for her.
Servants are usually abominably housed everywhere on the Continent. In France they are usually jammed up under the mansard with only a pane of glass in the ceiling to give air and light. The subject has been much agitated of late, but no general reform has resulted, nor was one looked for.
In the French country hotel, the early riser will often discover the garçon rolled up in a blanket on the floor at the back of the hall, or at best on a collapsible cot which he will carry away under his arm in the morning.
Swiss servants are good, reliable and industrious, but are apt to be cold, disagreeable and unpleasant to get on with. Especially with a stranger they are often unsympathetic, not to say hostile, a fact which makes their presence in the house not always agreeable. The great demand for servants in hotels in Switzerland tends to make them independent to a shameful degree. In the summer season, between the getting in the crops, work in the hotels and the embroidery factories, the supply of labour is not always up to the demand, hence every one is overworked and unduly hurried and apt to be irritable.
In marked contrast is the happy-go-lucky Italian servant who has some of the exasperating and endearing qualities which are possessed by the Irish. Smiling and of pleasant manner, the Italian woman servant will try to please for any old price one is minded to give her. For thirty or forty lire she will serve you well and cook good meals in native style for a month, with never a grumble as to short rations if you clean up the platter in the dining-room.
She calls her mistress madonna, with a caressing accent, and buys her a candle that has been blessed to burn beside her bed. Her kitchen looks like the wake of a whirlwind, with a baby or two making playthings of the vegetables, ducking fowls stalking about, and neighbours dropping in for a chat.
On your fête day, or birthday, your French servant will remember you with a present of a pot-plant in flower, tied up with a ribbon, often accompanied by a badly spelled, affectionate little note. In turn you are expected to reciprocate in the same manner, and if you get up for her a little informal party, with cakes and wine, you will incur no lack of dignity or strain your proper relations.
The French café garçon is one of the most competent of public servants. Also he is the most personally intimate of waiters. This comes from the fact that the clientele of the average café is largely made up of people who come regularly, thus mutually dependent relations come about quite naturally between the waiter and the particular coterie which he regularly serves. He is polite and attentive, chatty and communicative, but never familiar. He will bring writing materials if you ask him for du quoi écrire – the café letter head, in a folder, accompanied by blotting paper that won't blot, pale ink and a scratchy pen. With good taste and judgment he will pick out from the pile of illustrated journals which the establishment provides for its clients those that he thinks are suitable for the eyes of the ladies-though not many of them are. He brings out the backgammon board and the dominoes, first wiping off the table with the folded napkin which always hangs across his left arm. He never suggests by a covert hovering about that one should order something more, but serves the coffee, or whatever may have been ordered, and allows one to sit under its protection all of the evening if so desired. He understands that one comes to a café to repose, often more for this even than to drink. He will do anything but bring one a glass of ice water alone. In return for his excellent service this embarrassing order should never be given him by those with degenerate palates.
When one stops to think of the cosmopolitan treatment that the servants of European hotels have to contend with, the world-varying demands which they have to meet, with complaints in a dozen languages that they must straighten out – usually caused by misunderstanding, brought about by the ignorance of foreign manners and customs on the part of those whom they are serving, it must certainly be admitted that as a class European public servants are good and efficient. There may be individual shortcomings, but these only prove the strength of the statement. Their politeness is not always reciprocated by those whom they serve, and this of itself is enough to strain good nature to the breaking point. Whatever may be the present defects in the system of recruiting, and the conduct of servants in European hotels, the question may be asked if some of them may not be induced, often unwittingly maybe, by their exigent patrons.
The following observations on Continental hotel servants may open a new line of thought with some who would otherwise condemn hastily:
One of the first requirements of the cosmopolitan type of European hotel is that its personnel – its staff – must have some working knowledge of three or four languages. The European waiter educates himself by taking service in various countries for the purpose of increasing his vocabulary, well knowing that nothing will so quickly improve his ability to grasp opportunity.
As for the hall porter, that resplendent guardian of the hotel entrance, he is a veritable linguist. In the course of a few minutes he must switch from one to another of a half a dozen languages, beside be an expert in differentiating between American lingo and real English. His is no sinecure, and a tip is often worthily bestowed on him, for he is a buffer between the tourist and her own incompetence. No question is too trivial for his consideration, no situation so complicated that he cannot grapple with it. The strain on his temper and ability can only be met by keeping the parting tip always in mental view. He is the mainstay of the ladies and is asked almost as many questions as the captain of an Atlantic liner. He is the local directory, and can give any kind of information from where to buy hat pins to what the weather will be a day hence – if he does not really know he will make a good guess at it. His province is to see to the incoming and outgoing of the luggage, to sift out an excited and nervous crowd of travellers, with only, in most cases, a general idea of where they want to go, and what they want to do, and clarify their plans for them, getting them off to the right trains, or into their own automobiles or carriages. Whatever tip he may get he usually deserves, whether it be as little as two francs or as much as ten.
The head waiter controls the dining-room and the army of waiters. He seemingly has nothing to do but to bow politely, but the responsibility is his and all kicks should be made to him; also it is he who presents the bill on parting, when it is asked for at the last meal. The big, fat tips of one's stay goes usually to this Chesterfieldian personage principally for those pleasant bows and "good-mornings" with which he has brightened your stay, though one with any conscience will tip her waiter who has served as well.
Out of each million of hotel guests in Paris, counting those only who frequent the four chief classes of hotels, 650,000 are French provincials, the rest being étrangers, Americans, most likely, in the largest number.
The valet de chambre, or the Jerome de chambre in a big Paris hotel gains on an average of thirty-five francs a month as salary, which with "gratifications," a new word which the craft has adopted for pourboire, may bring it up to one hundred, one hundred and twenty-five or even one hundred and fifty francs.
The sommeliers, or garçons, who serve on the upper floors, who dress staidly in black and shuffle about like croque-morts (usually Swiss or Alsaciens, or even Germans) touch perhaps a hundred francs as salary or two hundred and fifty or more – gratification compris.
The wages, or perhaps one should say salaries, of the kitchen staff of a great modern Paris hotel – leaving the chef-directeur, the successor of the former écuyer de cuisine, out of the calculation, and who may get anything that the management can be made to pay – run from three hundred to four hundred francs a month – Potagers, sauciers, rôtisseurs, entremétiers, pâtissiers and glaciers.
Seven brigades of these sub-cellar employees (though now it is the fashion to put the kitchens on the roof) make soup in marmites as big as bath tubs, roast meat on broches as long as assagai spears and make a friture of three hundred baby trout in a cauldron of boiling oil as big as the basin of a Versailles fountain.
A dependency of all hotel kitchens is the caféterie. Here real artists pour boiling water drop by drop on the finest powdered moka, make also the smoothest possible chocolate and infuse the choicest pekoes, and thé, be it not forgot, returns the greatest proportionate profit in many a café and restaurant in Paris where the drinking of it has become a fad if not a custom – four sous' worth of tea-leaves return the café proprietor thirty sous in silver.