Will that be all, sir? Butler business booms in China

Hands sheathed in white gloves, Alvin Hu’s dream of serving as butler to China’s growing ranks of super-rich faced an unlikely challenge: a dinner plate piled high with multicoloured toy bricks. China’s only foreign-run butler school opened last year, riding the coat-tails of increasing demand for the trappings of European-style old money in the Communist-ruled country, even as its economic boom slows. Students at the International Butler Academy are drilled daily on everything from ironing perfect creases into tablecloths, polishing silverware, and the correct cutlery to accompany an eight-course banquet.

In the last few years the demand for butlers has become bigger and bigger. So it’s logical for us to have teachers here.

Thomas Kaufmann, head instructor at the school

The country’s elite have employed servants for centuries - with some, such as the eunuchs of the Imperial court, enjoying high status and power of their own - but screen representations of British-style butlers have lent them a new aura of luxury. “In the whole world there are more and more rich people. And especially in China, they want someone to take care of the smaller things,” said Hu, one of dozens of students who have enrolled in the school’s six-week courses, which cost $6,500. A butler can typically expect to earn $3,200 a month, according to Hu, making the course a worthwhile investment.

It’s easier to train a Chinese in the butler trade than it is to train a Western butler in Chinese language and culture.

Thomas Kaufmann