Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An Everyday Curtsey

Curtsy 2
"I curtsey many times each day in this job. At first I found [it] very strange and even awkward, but now it comes as second nature and is even fun actually!" - Miss Claire
Last January I wrote a post on the Decadence Of The Curtsey, in which I mentioned how much I wish the curtsy was still used commonly in our modern society.
At the time I had several encouraging comments from readers who share my desire to bring back this charming custom.

Just recently I received an e-mail from dear Miss Claire who wanted to tell me that she curtsies every day in her work as a ladies maid! I was immediately intrigued and had a million questions which Miss Claire very kindly answered.

She has also kindly given me permission to share her story with all of my readers "especially if it may give others the courage to do likewise".


Maid 12

Miss Claire was just an Irish lass working as a chambermaid at a prestigious inn when a titled Lady guest asked her to zip up the back of her dress for her. The two got talking and the Lady mentioned her intention to hire a live-in maid for her London apartment. Miss Claire was able to apply for the job on the spot.

She remembers from their conversation:  "I don't know why but I asked as she is titled would I be required to curtsey? She said she would be afraid to ask especially as it is only royalty who require it nowadays, but would adore having a maid that would curtsey and show her such respect! I immediately caught my dress and bobbed her a curtsey and said if she employed me I would be proud to curtsey for her. I guess the sight of me in my dress and apron uniform curtseying was just right as now I am her live-in maid!"



Maid 1
Miss Claire moved from Ireland to her employer's London apartment and has been working as a maid there since August. She is responsible for all of the housekeeping, a bit of the cooking, and sometimes serves as a personal maid helping with laying out clothes or drawing a bath. Like maids in the Victorian era she has a day and a half off each week with plenty of time to attend church on Sundays.



While on duty she always wears a uniform - navy or gray dress with white cuffs for mornings and a more formal black dress with 3/4 sleeves and lace cuffs for evenings.
"I am always neat with a clean apron, my apron lightly starched and [my employer] especially likes the bow to be perfect behind my back! This in fact took a lot of practice to perfect."

Maid 11


When and how many times a day is Miss Claire required to curtsy? 
"Every-time I enter her presence or leave a room she is in, I am required to curtsey to acknowledge her status and when asked to do something I will also curtsey before leaving. For instance if she asks me to prepare her bath, I will say 'Certainly My Lady' and curtsey and then suppose immediately she says lay out her clothes etc for her, I will again re-curtsey! In fact I really love waiting on her Ladyship as personal maid the best."

Maid 5
She also admits "I know it sounds so old fashioned, but I truly love it. I address her as 'My Lady' and always curtsey if she enters a room I am working in or every time I answer 'Yes My Lady' or always before I leave her presence. I know she loves me doing so and that is why I am here in the first place. In fact I was even shown how she would like me to curtsey!"





So what is the proper way for a maid to curtsy to her employer?
"I was taught the correct way to curtsey on my arrival in London and when and where. I am left handed, so I place my left foot behind my right foot, catch my dress with my finger-tips and widen my dress slightly and bend my knees and lower my body about 2 or 3 inches etc, hold there a second and rise again. ...I do not bow my head, but do not make eye contact either."

Photobucket
1950's Debutantes learn to curtsy

I didn't know this before but there are different types of curtsies to be used for different people. For instance if you were curtsying to royalty (such as the Queen of England) your curtsy would we low with head bowed. If you were curtsying before an English country dance began it would be a grander more exaggerated curtsy than if you were just bobbing to friend or acquaintance. I also hadn't thought of this before but other countries, particularly African countries still use curtsies on a regular basis!

Miss Claire passed on this bit of information about curtsying she has learned: "In Monaco I am told it is still very common as its seen as a symbol of status and personal wealth when the house owner is entertaining. Then in countries like Zimbabwe its the tradition that women, especially from the Shona tribe always curtsey when greeting one another, how beautiful I think! However its in a different style, they join their 2 hands together and then bend their knees, unlike the British style I practice. Its amazing once you are seen to curtsey, the information you find out from guests and other's comments."

Maid 9

I have to admit that the idea of a Lady in this modern age having a live-in maid does seem a bit odd, but to me it sounds so charming! How lovely to be able to curtsy each day! And having the privilege of caring for another person in this way is awesome. 

I've really enjoyed reading Miss Claire's letters, asking her questions and hearing her thoughts on being a maid.

"I really really love my job and its so much nicer than all the modern fast pace jobs my friends and peers have I think anyway.  ...I just adore dropping a graceful curtsey for my employer, Its just like I was a maid in a former life or something, it just seems so natural for me to do so. Yes my job is really interesting and so old world...We both love our new lives inside these four walls and are really good friends even though [we are] from totally different backgrounds. A Lady and her maid relationship is special when both understand their place. I just thought you might like to know somewhere in the world, a real upstairs downstairs still exists in this horrible modern world." - Miss Claire


Curtsy 1



A big thank you to dear Miss Claire for allowing me to share her special story with my readers! I pray that the Lord continues to bless you in your work! You have encouraged me to keep treasuring the job of caring for others and have inspired me to practice my curtsy. Maybe I'll even find ways of using it in my everyday life! How I love old-fashioned things like this!



Very Truly Your's


P.S. For those who may be wondering in this post I have used the American spelling of "curtsy" as my spell checker has told me is correct. But the "curtsey" spelling is also correct and used frequently in other English speaking countries. Also all of the photos in this post are ones I found online and edited the faces out myself.

9 comments:

Jemimah C. said...

This is a very interesting post.

Tristans_Isolde said...

How beautiful! I really enjoyed this post. Thanks :)

Joanna said...

How interesting and fun! If we ever meet, I curtsy to you. :-)

a man in my position said...

We just hired a maid, not live in as yet. It fell to me, in position, to explain to her that a neat curtsy would be required to the lady of the house on the maid's arrival to the house, when she entered a room where the lady of the house was present, and on the receipt of instructions.

She is not required to curtsy to me although, I have noticed that after a week or two, the curtsy has become habit.

Two notes: we are in Canada and our maid is 22 and delighted to be in service. If she passes her trial period she will live in.

Boffin said...

Lovely, thanks for this post. That people still show such respect and are glad to do so is a very soothing thought.

jemima grove said...

oooh, i found this very instructive

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I too work as a maid, I am in the UK Midlands. Although not instructed to curtsy as such the maid service I work for is called "With a Curtsy" so it is kind of implied as a requirement and is such well practised.
My uniform is black & white, black housekeeping dress with white cuffs & collar, White full bib apron with pleated lace around the edges and straps that go over the shoulder and cross at the back, then tie in a large bow. My hair must be worn in a braided bun, either finished with a ribbon tied in a bow around it or with a white maids cap.
Getting the bow dead centre in the middle of the back does take practice and patience to get right.

Anonymous said...

The Spirit moved me to try a curtsey for a little girl i just met named Laura. She was so helpful towards me today the next time i see her i will greet her with a curtsey out of respect for her! ��

Awdur said...

Just stumbled across this when desperately trying to find a page that would give instructions for different types of curtsies (I need a governess!). Very enjoyable post! Wouldn't I LOVE to have that job!
Lovely blog!

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