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I wandered into the men's clothing department of an upscale department store, the kind of store where the salesclerks all have sharp haircuts and perfectly tailored suits that are far nicer than anything YOU own, and, although they act very deferential, you know they're secretly watching to see which clothes you touch so they can have them burned later as a precaution against vermin.
Dave Barry, "Skivvying Up The Profits"

Servants, waiters, and other such attendants tend to be humble and deferential — it's considered part of their job description. This trope is about the exceptions: servants who are proud, patronising, or snobbish, and who will treat people with subtle contempt or even outright disdain. Sometimes their aloofness will be carefully restricted to people who occupy a lower position than them, or whom their employer doesn't care for — other times, it will extend to everyone, their employers included.

This can have various causes and forms (not mutually exclusive):

  • Reflected glory: They might gain power or prestige from their association with their oh-so-important employer (or at least, their employer's office or title). They may have had a relatively high position within a hierarchy of servants, or may have been delegated some authority by their employers — and they get Drunk with Power. Just because they have to be a Sycophantic Servant to their employer, doesn't mean they can't turn around and be a petty tyrant to servants on the next step down. Even if they're cleaning boots, the boots belong to someone important, and that's a closer association with power than many people can claim. Getting to sneer at people who have no access to their illustrious employer is a perk of the job.
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  • Flawed employers: If the servants are the ones who really run things — an Almighty Janitor, a Chessmaster Sidekick, or a Man Behind the Man — then they may take a dim view of whichever Upper-Class Twit thinks they're in charge. Servants are also in a better position than most to know the faults of their employer, who is often No Hero to His Valet. If servants are Loyal to the Position rather than the individual, they may be disdainful of any employer who is deemed to be disgracing their office.
  • Offended sensibilities: Despite not actually being members of the elite themselves, servants may be just as fastidious (if not more so) about upholding "proper" etiquette, protocol, and aesthetics. People who get mud on the fine carpets, scratch the expensive woodwork, draw moustaches on the paintings, and use the wrong fork at dinner may prompt a clash of Slobs Versus Snobs, with the servants being the latter. (Also, a lot of the failures of etiquette create more work for the servants—e.g., well, getting mud on the carpet, scratching the woodwork, and drawing moustaches on the paintings. Since servants aren't paid more for the extra work, it's a pure annoyance.)
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  • Meeting expectations: Some "haughty" servants may actually just be playing a role since an appearance of stuffy perfectionism might make a place look classier and more exclusive. If they think it's a sign of high standards, employers, guests, and customers might expect haughtiness.

A haughty servant may choose to express their disdain by being a Servile Snarker or by employing Stealth Insults. (Note, though, that not all snarky or insulting servants are haughty — in fact, many are snarking at haughtiness.) Another way for haughty servants to express themselves is by becoming an Obstructive Bureaucrat and engaging in Bothering by the Book. Contrast with Apathetic Clerk, where the worker is apathetic to their job, as opposed to disdainful.


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  • A series of UK ads for Kingsmill bread featured a stolidly working-class man who had somehow acquired a butler, who frequently raised an eyebrow at his employer's determination not to be "posh".

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Moriarty the Patriot, the Moriarty family servants hold the adopted boys in contempt, unhappy that they have to serve those of even lower social standing.

  • Django Unchained: Calvin Candie's assholish head butler, Stephen, is a Boomerang Bigot and Bad Boss to the other butlers and maids in the house. He is also implied to have been subtly manipulating Candie himself.
  • Parasite (2019): Moon-gwang is extremely offhand and suspicious of the Kims, though she has good reason to be, although she doesn't know that, and behaves like she owns the house. It all makes sense once the Kims learn that her husband is living in the basement to avoid debt collectors.

  • Some appear in the works of P. G. Wodehouse.
    • Of the Jeeves and Wooster duo, Bertie Wooster is often more casual about etiquette and proprieties than Jeeves, despite being an archetypal Upper-Class Twit. While Jeeves's disapproval of Bertie's choices never translates to disapproval of Bertie himself, and he always rallies around Bertie in the end, that doesn't mean he'll let his employer get away with lax standards. Of particular note are their periodic clashes about Bertie's fashion choices — Jeeves considers this a more Serious Business than Bertie does, and despite Bertie declaring more than once that he won't be pushed around by his valet, Jeeves always manages to quash any departures from correct gentlemen's attire.
    Jeeves: The tie, if I might suggest it, sir, a little more tightly knotted. One aims at the perfect butterfly effect. If you will permit me—
    Bertie: What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this? Do you realise that Mr Little's domestic happiness is hanging in the scale?
    Jeeves: [pained] There is no time, sir, at which ties do not matter.
    • Elsewhere in the Jeeves and Wooster stories, there are other, haughtier servants. Jeeves's uncle, Charlie Silversmith, is the butler at Deverill Hall and is noted for his intimidating, austere manner. The servant Bertie and others meet at Bingley's house in Much Obliged, Jeeves is also notably disdainful of his employer's visitors.
    • In Wodehouse's Ukridge stories, the narrator (Corky) lives in an apartment building run by Bowles, a former butler to an earl. Bowles is always polite and respectful but still manages to project an air of dignified superiority leaving Corky in no doubt that he isn't approved of. Also featured are some haughty servants of Ukridge's rich aunt Julia, who make it clear that they're only letting rabble like Corky into the house under protest.
  • In Rebecca, Mrs Danvers the housekeeper is contemptuous of her employer's new wife, trying to bully and belittle her. Mrs Danvers had a very close attachment to the previous lady of the house, the titular Rebecca, and does not believe that the replacement is worthy of Rebecca's place.
  • Au Bonheur Des Dames (a French novel by Emile Zola, set in one of the first department stores) explores this theme: the saleswomen are all working-class, but often better-dressed than the customers who come to them for help, resulting in subtle resentment and jealousy on either side.
  • In The Goblin Emperor, Maia is unenthusiastic about the strict protocols surrounding the imperial throne to which he is the Unexpected Successor, and some of his household clearly disapprove of him. Beshelar, one of his bodyguards, is particularly prone to finding the Emperor's behaviour scandalous, although he's still scrupulously loyal and Maia manages to establish a good relationship with him eventually. The same is not true of another bodyguard, Dazhis, who keeps his disapproval hidden until his Bodyguard Betrayal.
  • The Wheel of Time: The upper servants of the Seanchan Empire's aristocracy are granted the title so'jhin; while they're still slaves, they hold some of their masters' authority and are often quite powerful as a result. The Seanchan princess's so'jhin bodyguard Selucia shows no deference to anyone else, even reigning monarchs of other nations.
  • Heidi: When Heidi is sent to live with the Sesemann family, she is treated with contempt only by Miss Rottenmeier, the snooty and strict housekeeper.
  • The Castle of Lake Tchou-An (a continuation of the Judge Dee series): While staying in a noble family's domain, the judge overhears the majordomo being utterly contemptuous to a woman, who he think is the aged cook... then discovers it's the mistress of the house. It later turns out that the original family all died of sickness and the nobles are actually actors, explaining his monstrous (especially to Tang dynasty sensibilities) behavior. We later see the majordomo's POV, and it turns out he'd resented the family for decades, having poisoned them himself to steal their money and make a new life for himself.
  • Discworld:
    • Mrs. Whitlow, the Unseen University head housekeeper in Wizards books, who speaks very pretentiously and has exacting standards for the rest of the staff. Even the wizards aren't quite sure how to deal with her in The Last Continent.
    • Unseen Academicals goes into further detail about below-stairs at UU, including that the Bledlows (porters) and the Candle Knave not-so-secretly believe that they basically run the University, and the guys in pointy hats would be lost without them. The Candle Knave in particular is the reflected glory type, deferential to the wizards (at least to their faces) but ruthless to the workers in the candle vats. At one point, Archchancellor Ridcully ruefully reflects that, as the person from whom the Candle Knave's authority derives, he has to go along with this in order to maintain the heirarchy, even though his sympathies lie rather more with the dribblers. The Bledlows, meanwhile, seem to be the flawed-employer type, at least in their own opinion. They refer to the wizards behind their backs as "pointies", and seem to feel that senior wizards are just former students, and they definitely have authority over students.
    • According to The Compleat Discworld Atlas, the highest honour given to Quirmian restaurants, the Cordon Octarine, has the rudeness of the waiters as one of the criteria.
  • One of the reflected-glory type (or possibly, given the slave engineering implied to occur, a mixture of that and meeting expectations) shows up in More Terrible Than Chains, as a butler slave who disrespects mere sex slaves. He transpires to himself be a dual-purpose sex slave; in addition to being a butler, he was programmed to sexually dominate his owner, making him also an example of the flawed employer type.
  • Several works by Agatha Christie set in post-war times feature gardeners who barely avoid qualifying as Crooked Contractors, but consume a lot of tea compared to the little work they do, and rarely if ever obey their employer's orders when it comes to changing the kinds of flowers and vegetables being planted.
  • Servant Mage: Lady Ilfiantel's Old Retainer Gifa is harshly insistent on the respect she feels Ilfiantel is due and is contemptuous of commoners, even when Ilfiantel tells her to tone it down. It's one of many signs of the deep flaws in Monarchist society, even though the Liberationists are worse.
    Gifa: The sap-drinking dirt-shod drab likes of you must address her as "my lady".

    Live-Action Television 
  • In You Rang, M'Lord?, the servants are deferential to their employers but have their own hierarchy of snobbery. In particular, James the valet and Mrs Lipton the cook can both be quite unpleasant towards Mabel the charwoman and Henry the boot-boy, who are at the bottom of the heap. By contrast, Mr Stokes the butler (nominally at the top of the servant hierarchy) is usually quite nice to the junior staff, only taking a hard line when it's necessary to keep up appearances. A certain amount of the conflict between him and James comes from their differing attitudes on this subject — Stokes is something of a closet socialist, proud of his working-class background and secretly disdainful of his wealthy employers, while James fully believes in the class system and his place in it.
  • In Worzel Gummidge, Sue defines a butler as "a person who serves drinks on trays and looks down his nose".
  • Blackadder: In Blackadder the Third, Edmund (Prince George's butler/manservant) makes his contempt for subordinates (such as Baldrick) and the lower orders of society (such as actors and the French) clear. Clearer than his contempt for most everyone else that is, barring the Prince whose peculiar understanding allows him to blur the standards of what is clear and what is not.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look has the sketches "The incredibly posh people who are still unaccountably waiters", and "The incredibly aristocratic and intimidating people who still unaccountably sell clothes".
  • Several in Downton Abbey:
    • Carson has good intentions and is fair for the most part, but he can be quite snobby about enforcing traditions and keeping up the image of the estate.
    • Thomas is an example of Reflected Glory. When given a promotion in season 2, he takes great pleasure in reminding the other servants that they are beneath him.
    • Ethel could count as an example of the above as well, given how often she talks about how she deserves more than a life of service.
  • Captain Peacock from Are You Being Served? is stuck-up and treats the floor as if it were his own domain, speaking down to the sales staff and being utterly dismissive of the maintenance staff. He's frequently shown wanting to gain greater prestige, only to be rebuffed by his seniors, who genuinely have the status he craves.

  • Gilbert in The Train at Platform 4 is an offended sensibilites type. He is responsible for the First Class carriage, and the passengers in First Class are better than other passengers, so he must maintain the standards he assumes they expect. His Establishing Character Moment is hearing that there is free coffee in Standard Class for one day, being outraged that the masses are getting a perk that should be reserved for his passengers, and calling it an "experiment in socialism".


    Video Games 
  • In Last Word, Banter, the servant at the Professor's mansion, is notably disdainful of the guests attending the party. He doesn't much bother to hide it, meeting any criticism of his attitude with further barely-concealed put-downs. If Seymour's journal is to be believed (which it sometimes might be), he's been waiting a long time for the chance to sneer at his supposed betters. His relationship with the Professor seems to go beyond simple employment, so he probably wouldn't get in trouble for it even if it were a more normal party.
  • BlazBlue: While Kagura's Battle Butler Hibiki is normally humble and soft-spoken to most people, he often throws snark at his boss as he has to rein his boss in from his "fratboy" and perverted antics.
  • Touhou Project: When Reisen is first introduced she's a Dirty Coward who frequently mocks Earthlings for being inferior to Lunarians, despite being merely one of the Moon Rabbits who serve them. This extends to her bossing around Earth rabbits like Tewi, seemingly unaware that the Lunarian exiles she works for are guests in Tewi's house. However, Reisen's extended time on Earth eventually leads her to become fully mortal and essentially go native, picking up a good deal of humility, sentimentality, and even courage in the process.
  • Fire Emblem Fates has Jakob, Corrin's personal butler and attendant. He serves them with the utmost care and is unfailingly polite to them, even when things are rough. However, he's snobbish and rude to everyone else and strikes up conversations with others, even Corrin's close friends, just to mock them.
  • Fallout 4 has Wellingham, a snotty Mister Handy that is extremely rude to anyone who isn't upper class.
  • In Dishonored, Lord Treavor Pendleton's servant Wallace is probably the snobbiest character Corvo meets. Although a commoner, he thinks that his family's long history of service lifts him above his fellow servants, and he speaks of commoners with disdain. This includes people of much higher rank than him, such as Admiral Havelock, whose achievements Wallace considers irrelevant next to noble birth. Unfortunately, this doesn't spare him when the Loyalist conspiracy's inner circle, including his master Pentleton, decide to cover up their involvement by killing the lesser members.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: Barnabas-Basil Foulty from the Blood And Wine-DLC is a subversion. While he has all the trappings of the trope, position, accent, and mannerisms, he is anything but haughty. Barnabas-Basil is never anything but respectful, polite, and helpful, shows no prejudice towards anyone, never complains about Geralt's antics, and is not above having a friendly drink and game of gwent with Geralt or sharing some gossip about past owners of Corvo Bianco. The only thing that gets his dander up is when someone (Triss, Yennefer, or Ciri, depending on the player's choices) barges into the house uninvited and unannounced.

    Web Original 
  • Mrs Crocombe from The Victorian Way has shades of the "offended sensibilities" type. While generally pleasant and helpful, and mindful that some cooks might not have access to the wealth of ingredients and help she has as head cook at a stately home, she frequently gives disapproving looks when discussing both social vulgarities (like calling roly-poly pudding "dead man's leg") and lazy shortcuts in cookery (like using custard powder and tinned fruit to make a trifle).

    Western Animation