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The Butler Speaks by Charles MacPherson

When I first heard about this book, I became giddy with glee. As a long time fan of Charles MacPherson, or as he is fondly referred to on the Marilyn Denis show as Charles the Butler, I’ve always found his advice poignant, proper and practical. It’s hard to take notes watching a TV show, and even harder trying to remember all his great advice, so The Butler Speaks is a fabulous must-have guide to stylish entertaining, etiquette and the art of good housekeeping.

Iron Man (or Woman):
One thing that came as a shock to my ego is that apparently I don’t really know how to iron a shirt. It makes sense now that I think about it. It always takes me twice as long, and after I “think” I’m done, I find myself constantly frustrated to discover crease marks on the front of the shirt, or the sleeves. Perhaps now, one of the chores I hate so much might become one that I love? Oh, who’s kidding, I still won’t “love” it, I’ll just be able to do it faster and more efficiently, so I can spend more time indulging on one of my great pastimes – reading.

There’s so much more in this book of course, including how to set up a French, American and even a Chinese Table Setting. Here’s a tip from Charles the Butler about one of the fine rules of formal table place setting:

Accuracy + Symmetry = Beauty

Break bread with someone:
Did you know that watching how a person eats bread can tell you what they know about table etiquette? Here’s a tip – always tear a small piece off to eat; do not use your knife to cut the bread; do not butter the entire piece of bread before eating.
There are so many other little nuggets of neat etiquette rules in The Butler Speaks by Charles MacPherson. Pick it up for yourself and be “proper”. Better still, it makes a great host/ess gift that’s sure to be a conversation starter.

If I ever get a chance to meet Charles MacPherson one day, I will have to brush up on my etiquette and try impress him with my five-storey high champagne tower. But somehow I know that even if I screw up on which fork to use, or discover that my French Lily napkin fold isn’t quite up to par, it’s going to be okay, because Charles the Butler seems to be the nicest guy to invite for dinner. Charles reminds us, 

“Don’t be a snob. If you know certain rules of etiquette but someone in your home does not, it is rude and inappropriate to advise them and make them feel uncomfortable. Always be kind and gracious even when others are not. This is the correct form of behavior for any host or hostess.” 


  1. One of the critics of the need for manners and etiquette, sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen --himself unkempt and terse with lesser intellects-- observed that the norms of manners and etiquette have little practical "economic" value but are of unquestionable cultural value in establishing one's place within society's strata. But a counterpoint to this is that manners and etiquette should be timeless: one may be rich but not necessarily well behaved whilst another may be of modest means and have impeccable manners -- whom would you rather dine with? Even if this is a questionable thought experiment it doesn't take away the value of maintaining manners and etiquette as a necessity in manoeuvering through society's hurdles. This accessible book is a useful guide and does it without snobbery.


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