Jack Nargil, a former Capitol Hill legislative aide, has the perfect resume for the foreign service: an undergraduate degree in international affairs, a master's degree in science technology and public policy and a facility for languages. But Nargil's service is of a more domestic nature.

On a bright November weekday at the Four Seasons Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, the phone rang and Nargil quickly rearranged someone's travel plans. For a call from Paris, he swiftly switched to French, then back to English to help a woman in a short fur and tall boots.

Mayor Marion Barry walked into the hotel lobby and was graciously but inconspicuously greeted. Without skipping a beat or ruffling the white shirt, vest and tails he wears as chief concierge, Nargil had one more call to take before he could answer questions about what it's like to be what he calls "the heartbeat of the hotel."

European hotel concierges long have been renowned and highly compensated for their ability to expedite a range of services, from having fresh flowers delivered on a day when all the flower shops are closed to getting an audience with the pope. But in this country, where it often is said that the only thing missing from the service economy is the service, the position of hotel concierge is just coming into its own.

This week, Les Clefs d'Or, the international association of concierges from 24 countries whose symbol is crossed golden hotel keys, will meet in Washington. It's the group's first meeting in the United States and a sign, according to members here, of the growing recognition of concierges in this country.

The U.S. branch of the organization is small -- about 120 members compared with a total membership of 4,000 -- and young -- nine years old compared with the European association's 35 years. The organization's directory lists only 10 members in the Washington area. Some members feared that the U.S. delegation wasn't ready to play host to the international gathering, but others jumped at the chance.

"European concierges still look down somewhat on American concierges," said Nargil, president of Les Clefs d'Or USA. "We don't have the history, the tradition of hoteliers there, where people spend their whole careers."

"The meeting will be a stupendous thing," said Anneliese Ervin, chief concierge at the Willard Inter-Continental on Pennsylvania Avenue, and one of a growing number of women in the job. "We're going to try to convince management that we should have a little more authority here."

Several concierges hinted that at some hotels there is a bit of jealousy between the general manager who runs a hotel and the concierge, who is often more visible. "No great general manager has ever been a concierge," said one. "And a concierge can only be as good as his or her general manager allows him to be."

The duties of a concierge vary widely depending on the hotel, its size and structure. There are those who say that the truly European-style concierge does not exist in this country, mainly because most European hotels are smaller -- 50 to 100 rooms compared with hundreds of rooms in major U.S. hotels. In addition, concierges there may stay at one hotel for an entire career, so that the hotel has an individual personality that is defined by its concierge. Also, about half of the concierges in the United States are women, while in Europe, the chief concierge is virtually always a man.

"The position is still being defined here," said Gordon Benson, head concierge at the Hay-Adams Hotel on 16th Street NW and president of the Washington area concierge association. The local association is working to standardize the position.

Benson is not yet a member of Les Clefs d'Or, although he has applied for membership. To be considered, an applicant must havespent a minimum of five years in the hotel business, with three years at the concierge desk. Then there must be recommendations from the general manager of the hotel and consideration by the organization's national board. In all, the application may take six months to a year. "The concierge should be a special ombudsman to the guests for anything they need during their stay ... from the mundane to the sublime," Benson said.

The European-style concierge is employed mostly at luxury hotels in this country. There is some fear that the concept will be diluted by chains that offer what they call concierge service, even though it really is little more than an information clerk at a lobby desk.

"It can be a real gimmick," said Betty Bradley, chief concierge at the Grand Hotel at 24th and M Streets. Still, Europhiles in the market-ing business have discovered the concept, and now even limousine services and airlines are setting up "concierge desks" in airports.

"It's like the term 'chef.' We sometimes use it loosely, but it means something very specific," said Fred Antil, director of career planning and placement at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration. "The major challenge that the {hotel} industry has here is the concept of service. I think it will become somewhat self-defeating if all the focus is {on concierges} and not on the other employes."

What happened to Bradley on a Sunday night last month illustrates the kind of demands that can be placed on a concierge.

She was about to enjoy a glamorous repast of a tuna fish sandwich at home when the telephone rang:

During a refueling stop at Andrews Air Force Base, King Juan Carlos of Spain and his 70-member entourage had been told that there was a problem with the plane and that they would not be able to go on to Madrid. Bradley's employer, The Grand Hotel, had received a request for rooms for the group from the U.S. Office of Protocol. The guests would arrive in less than an hour.

Bradley rushed to the hotel. She and the entire Sunday staff were "getting the Presidential suite ready, grabbing flowers, rolling out the red carpet, ordering fruit baskets and Dom Perignon for the rooms," when the Secret Service called to say that the arrival of the king and his entourage was imminent.

Bradley greeted the king calmly, with the Southern hospitality of her Atlanta roots, and went on to help serve a late dinner to the group.

"Everybody has his or her own style," said Bradley of the concierge's job. "You need some class, some snobbery, but some warmth."

Bradley's career is another example of the disparate paths that take people to the position of concierge. When Bradley arrived in Washington in 1976, her job had been raising seven children.

But not long after she took a post at the Watergate Hotel as a cashier, she was chosen to work at the concierge desk there, where she stayed until 1982.

Now, as chief concierge at the Grand, she describes her job as making sure that every minute of a guest's stay is trouble-free. She has done everything from borrowing a waiter's tuxedo for a guest who needed it for the evening to telexing London to find a nanny for clients traveling in Europe.

In the realm of the sublime, Ervin at the Willard may take the prize. A gentleman staying at the hotel was planning a marriage proposal. He sent flowers and champagne, but was struggling with the note.

When he read the note to Ervin, who used to be in the publishing business, she suggested that it needed to be more romantic. Like Cyrano, she offered to write something more poetic herself, and the offer was accepted.

"They went on their honeymoon a few months later, and they still keep in touch," Ervin said.

Several hotel chains -- such as Sheraton Hotels and Radisson Hotels -- have taken a different approach to providing special services through programs that stress that any hotel employe who is approached by a guest with a problem should be able to handle it without referring the person to someone else.

Many chains also provide special executive floors with concierges to take care of guests staying there.

But concierges counter that clients who can go to a specific person for their needs, rather than approaching just anyone, are more likely to get the help they need because part of the concierge's job is to know how to get virtually anything done.

As a result, they say, guests are likely to develop a greater loyalty to the hotel. "People become loyal to people, not buildings," said Nargil.

At the Four Seasons, Nargil oversees the bellmen as well as the housekeeping, engineering and valet services. Like other concierges, he is constantly juggling, answering questions, arranging for secretarial services for business travelers, recommending restaurants and entertainment or making sure that the plumbing in a room has been fixed.

Janice Grishman, the concierge at the 685-room Hyatt Regency Crystal City, spends much of her time doing things for business people, such as spelling every word in a three-page telex in French to an operator who doesn't speak the language.

And there is the occasional weird request, such as the time a rock musician with a sexy image (Grishman, who knows discretion is the byword of the concierge, wouldn't say who) wanted a zebra skin put in his room before a journalist arrived for an interview.

Grishman contacted a decorator, who suggested trying Bloomingdale's. The zebra skin arrived just in time in a taxi.

Concierges probably are best known for their expertise in getting tickets for a sold-out show or a table at a favorite restaurant. For this, they maintain close contact with restaurateurs and box-office attendants.

This gives the local concierge association a certain clout with those who want to be recommended -- from retailers to restaurants.

At the association's regular meetings, word gets around about restaurants where service is bad or tour operators who that don't deliver promised services.

Talk of vendors leads to talk of commissions -- a sometimes controversial part of the job. Tour operators, limousine services and car-rental agencies often pay a commission to the concierge for business that comes their way, although it is considered unethical by most to accept gratuities from restaurants. Some hotels keep the commission, rather than allowing the concierge to take it, while others don't allow commissions.

"It's like a travel agent's {fee}," Antil said. "It can be done legitimately, but there's always a danger of conflict of interest."

Some concierges complain that the hotel industry's notoriously low pay extends to them. A consensus on salaries shows that assistant concierges at fine hotels tend to have salaries between $18,000 and $25,000, while head concierges generally get $25,000 to $35,000. Industry observers tend to shrug off the complaints, saying that concierges can nearly double those amounts with commissions and tips. But concierges said that, unlike their European counterparts, the idea of making a fist full of dollars in tips is a pipe dream.

"It depends a lot on the hotel and the clientele," Benson said. "You have people who are nouveau riche who have no problem spending money, while some truly wealthy guests are much more conservative. You can work your heart out for someone and they hardly say thank you. For others, you do something very small and they're very generous."

Virtually all the concierges agree that if they do the job just for the tip, they'll be disappointed. The job takes patience, stamina and knowing a little about everything. Sometimes as a reward, they get a kick in the teeth.

Sometimes not. Dixie Eng, the concierge at the Wyndham-Bristol Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, said trust is important on both sides of the equation -- whether it's the concierge trusting the guest enough to lend him money in a pinch or the guest trusting the concierge to accomplish a really important task.

Eng passed the ultimate trust test when a longtime guest of the hotel needed someone to fly to New York City to pick up a bracelet that was being engraved for his wife's birthday and bring it back in time for the celebration.

Eng did the errand herself, flying back from New York with the bracelet in her purse clutched tightly at her side. Eng earned her expenses for the trip, a $200 tip and a loyal guest for life.