After fretting over appropriate attire and pondering the perfect holiday gift, many social graces can heap pressure on those who strive to please. Despite his considerable study and expertise, MacPherson cautions that rules are not etched in stone. “Etiquette should never be static,” he says. “It’s a living, breathing document that needs to change as our society—and our world—changes.”
Charles MacPherson’s The Pocket Butler, a follow-up to his best-selling The Butler Speaks, is available now.
Many diners fear selecting a cheap wine will reflect poorly on them, but ordering an expensive bottle can sometimes break the bank. MacPherson offers this reassuring tip: “You should pick and drink what you like. Don’t worry about picking something by name. Stay within your price range, of course, but just go with what you like.”
If you find yourself on the other side of the kitchen island, serving up a meal to a sizable crowd, don’t complicate matters by leaving things to the last minute. “From the host’s perspective, the most important thing is to be organized,” MacPherson explains. “Think about what platters you are using. Ask yourself if you have enough forks and knives. If you’re going to be buying pop and potato chips, why wait until two days before? Buy non-perishables two weeks ahead and get it over with.”
Want a second invitation? Being a good guest is MacPherson’s recommendation. “When we invite someone for Christmas, it’s a lot of pressure – especially when we invite 12 or 24 people.” And those at the dinner table should show not just compassion, but consideration: “Offer to help. Don’t just say, ‘Can I do something?’ Stand up from the table and start to do the dishes! Go into the kitchen and ask what can be brought to the table. It’s very important.”
Thinking of escaping the bustling downtown core for a few days? Try only taking a carry-on. “We consistently pack too much,” says MacPherson. “Most people don’t wear the majority of what they pack. Think about where you’re going and what you’re going to do. It’s OK to wear something two or three times. You’re on vacation! With airlines charging so much for excess baggage these days, it’s actually cheaper to do a little cleaning at a local laundromat, or even at the hotel.”
As Vancouver expands, a larger civic population brings with it traffic troubles, noise concerns and more. MacPherson has a simple solution: “Be aware of others,” he says plainly. “No matter where you are in the world, people want to feel respected. Now—more than ever—if we want to continue to have civility, we have to be aware that there are other people around us.”
Eye contact is key to making a good first impression and advice columnists have long suggested engaging in direct conversation. MacPherson echoes all of this—especially in our Internet age. “We’ve become self-absorbed by digital communication. I find it tiring.” So how does one make an impression today in a world without tangible likes, posts and shares? “The most important thing is to be interested … to want to meet the person. If you are sincere—repeating names, engaging in conversation—it all comes naturally.”
Before you start printing place cards, think about what’s being communicated on your invitations—or, sometimes, what’s not. “With invitations, the thing that’s forgotten is giving all the details,” warns MacPherson. “If it’s a surprise party, give the time! Be specific. Is there valet parking or a dress code or a RSVP required? People don’t often give all of the necessary information.”
Opening your home to guests can be a challenge, but it shouldn’t be a social disaster. “The biggest mistake that people make when they set the table is that they don’t think about where everyone is going to sit. [When] you say ‘seat yourself where you want,’ you are not controlling the flow of conversation,” says MacPherson. “The last thing you want is for me to sit beside the guy who had an affair with my spouse, or the person I am fighting with in a business deal,” he cautions. Place settings are not just about aesthetics to him: “It all comes down to trying to make someone feel comfortable.”
Power suits often take a back seat to yoga pants when Vancouverites take to the sidewalk for a stroll—and it’s a reality not unnoticed by MacPherson. “Black tie is primarily an East Coast tradition. The West Coast is much more casual,” he says. “But what is really important is not to confuse a casual appearance with a lack of professionalism or formality.” None of this means giving up. Planning ahead for a night on the town is still a critical style consideration. “It’s always a mistake to be underdressed,” explains MacPherson. “If you’re overdressed, it’s usually much easier to go down a notch.”
Luxury living gets a helping hand as Canada’s butler-academy sage takes up residence and dispenses expert advice
Burrard Place—the towering 53-storey residential structure that will soon cast a tall shadow over downtown Vancouver—offers more than just luxury living: it brings with it an assembled staff, including some of Canada’s most admired creative minds on call to handle everything from residents’ style dilemmas to their culinary conundrums.
With such sophisticated offerings, the development is clearly catering to a new era of West Coast luxury and project designers knew exactly who to task with bringing ideas to life. Charles MacPherson—internationally renowned author, etiquette expert and founder of North America’s only registered school for butlers and household managers—will facilitate a portion of the exclusive ‘star services’ for lucky denizens as Burrard Place’s butler concierge. MacPherson’s respected opinions on matters ranging from estate management to sartorial pursuits are familiar to both readers of his acclaimed book, The Butler Speaks, and viewers of CTV’s The Marilyn Denis Show, where he regularly shares his practical and proven advice. With his involvement, MacPherson will ensure residents of the tower enjoy simple lessons for sophisticated living.