As Good As Vietnam Gets
The Butler Did It… At The Metropole
I’ll never forget the day I was walking down a corridor of the Metropole Wing, past the Charlie Chaplin Suite, when I encountered something out of a storybook. One of the hotel butlers was standing outside the door to the suite, not quite at attention, but with a certain rigidity and a formality that reminded me of the archetypal English butler.
“Are you waiting for someone?” I asked.
“I am, sir. We have a spa appointment in...” he looked at his watch. “Two hours.”
“And until then?”
“Waiting, sir.” He smiled, and stiffened a bit.
I shook his hand, and wished him a good day, and realized that I’d never quite encountered one of the Metropole’s 13 butlers looking so very much like… well, a butler. Turns out this guest, an interior designer from the Netherlands, engaged a butler for the duration of his stay, and required the butler to stand outside his door, should there be a need for anything incidental.
Otherwise, this butler was busy with the usual tasks -- unpacking and then packing guests’ luggage, booking tickets, confirming flights, ironing clothes, shining shoes, organizing tours, serving meals, and so on. Butlers at the Metropole are some of the most nimble people I have ever encountered, and that partly may be a function of the cultural milieu. All of our butlers are Vietnamese, and the Vietnamese are among the most able, resourceful people anywhere. They know how things work, and they know how to get things done.
After our Dutch guest checked out, I asked the hotel’s head butler how the stay went, and was pleased to learn we’d earned high praise. Our butler did, indeed, man that door for days on end, except for when our guest was sleeping or out and about in town.
“That is unusual, isn’t it?” I asked. “Butlers who stand at the ready outside a guest’s door.”
“Unusual, but not so unusual,” Ms. An told me. And then, because I was clearly interested in a few more stories, she told me some.
About how recently, her butlering for one guest was all about genealogy. A guest of mixed French and Vietnamese heritage came to Vietnam, looking for her roots. All she had was the name of her late mother’s home city, and her mother’s name, of course. So Ms. An started phoning around Lang Son. One call led to another and another, and finally to a first cousin. Mission accomplished.
Another time, a guest checked out, flew south to Hoi An, and checked into the Nam Hai, but forgot his clothes. At 10 p.m., the Metropole butlers went to work, and by the time that guest woke up the next morning, there was a man at his door in Hoi An with the missing clothes.
“The butler did it,” I said, charmed by the image.
Because Ms. An herself is a butler and knows all of the catchphrases of her trade, she improved upon my remark. “The butler always does it.