Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Invisible Barrier

In the sixteenth century French women servants were arrested and placed in prison for wearing clothes similar to those worn by their "superiors". It developed that they had made the garments themselves, copying them from the original models, sometimes sitting up all night to finish the garment. But the court ruled that it made no difference whether they had made them themselves or not; they had worn clothes like their mistresses', and they must be punished! We very much wiser people of the twentieth century smile when we read of these ridiculous edicts of a long-ago court, but we placidly continue to condemn the shop-girl and the working-girl if she dares to imitate Parisienne importations.

It is very often the same in the household. We ridicule the "class systems" of other countries, yet we deliberately build up a barrier between ourselves and those who work for us. Perhaps there must be some such barrier to keep the social equilibrium; but is there any reason why it should be unkind and discourteous?

The mistress should not, of course, confide in her servants, gossip with them, discuss her affairs with them, enter their quarrels and take sides with them. But she can be cheerful, polite, considerate; and invariably she will find that this kind of treatment will bring an immediate response even from the most sullen servant.

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