Saturday, September 24, 2005

Keeping up appearances.

Manners maketh the man - Finishing schools

470 words
24 September 2005
The Economist
(c) The Economist Newspaper Limited, London 2005. All rights reserved

Good manners come back into fashion

The new interest in etiquette crosses gender boundaries

ACCORDING to Simone de Beauvoir, a woman is not born, but made. For many well-off British girls, a big part of this manufacturing process used to take place at finishing school, with classes in such womanly essentials as deportment, etiquette and flower-arranging.

It is still possible to gain a Diploma in Finishing in Switzerland, where Surval Mont-Fleuri and the Institut Villa Pierrefeu offer a residential course “suitable to the professional aspirations of a modern young lady”. But British finishing schools have closed or turned into business and secretarial colleges.

It seems, however, that mothers still want their daughters to stand up straight and make polite conversation. So Diana Mather and Penny Edge, specialists in corporate recruitment and training, have created The Finishing Academy, offering short courses teaching women and girls to “make the most of themselves”. The talk is about winning business contracts, not husbands, and the cookery is tailored to university life, not gala dinners.

Alongside etiquette and deportment, the courses impart a smattering of self-esteem (public speaking, how to network) and common sense (first-aid, healthy eating), with one-hour sessions on chess, interior design and massage thrown in. The truly vital topics—walking with a book on your head and getting out of a car with your knees together—are covered too. (In case you're wondering, swing your legs out with your knees together, put both feet flat on the ground and push up from the seat.)

Etiquette is even making it onto prime-time TV. “Ladette to Lady”, which aired this summer, showed ten belching, hard-drinking, swearing young women learning to mind their language, walk in heels and host dinner-parties.

And the new interest in etiquette isn't just for women. Some years ago, Sean Davoren, head butler at The Lanesborough, a London hotel, was called on to help to pacify an obnoxious child. He explained the basics of behaving nicely in public, the child was enthralled, the parents told their friends and he found himself holding etiquette classes for children once a month. Demand, even at £45 ($80) a head for two hours, was so high that the waiting list reached 12 months. This year he took a break from teaching to write “Manners from Heaven”, a children's book on etiquette.

Ms Mather and Ms Edge are now planning courses for men. The core subjects of standing, walking and eating are the same as for women, but the add-ons are a little different: map-reading, car-maintenance, fishing, golf, clay pigeon shooting and how to sew on a button. Getting out of a car with your knees together is still for the ladies only, though.


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