Q: I have just been engaged as a maid in an exceedingly aristocratic household. I suspect it is true that "good help is hard to find nowadays," since I got the position without having had any previous experience. I think my false letters of recommendation may have assisted in this; at any rate, many uncomfortable moments have arisen from my lack of expertise.
Most recently, my employer -- who is rather eccentric, comme tout le Beau Monde, n'est-ce pas? -- insisted on introducing me to one of her visitors, a young woman who, according to the newspaper, is heir to $50 million.
This heiress greeted me pleasantly, but didn't offer to shake my hand. I just smiled and clutched my dust mop. Should I have offered my own hand? I would very much appreciate an answer to this and any suggestions you might have for my success in the domestic service. I want to stay hired at least until I have enough material for a novel titled The Dust Mop May Eavesdrop.
P.S. In all fairness, I think you also should include some advice for my employer. Thank you.
A: Miss Manners' advice to your employer is: Watch out. You're welcome.
It has always been a ludicrous fiction that servants were deaf and blind to what was going on around them, and people who envy the household staff of bygone eras might reflect on what they did to privacy. There may have been fewer attempts to publish the family secrets then, although that was not unknown, but instances of blackmail, from the gentle variety to the blatant, were plentiful.
Nevertheless, that fiction served the dignity of both employer and employe. If nothing is officially observed by the servant, then there is no need for commenting about what is going on -- which always leads to trouble. Surely you want your private life to be your own affair; you should minimize the effect of your being present for your employer's social and other personal life.
So Miss Manners' advice to you is to remain in a posture of aloofness, resisting all awkward attempts at chumminess -- such as introducing you to her friends as if you were another of her friends who just happened to be standing there with a dust mop--with cold politeness.
This will have three desirable effects: You will not risk your employer's arbitrarily deciding you have overstepped the bounds; you will impress her with the idea that you are a proud person not to be trifled with; and you will hear infinitely more of what is going on around the house, and thus have a more interesting novel.