Sunday 21 January 2018

How to avoid breaches of etiquette...

To the manners born? It seems not all of us are clued in. Our reporter discovers why courses in etiquette have taken off worldwide

Rules of dining: Deirdre Reynolds and Orla Brosnan go through table manners
Rules of dining: Deirdre Reynolds and Orla Brosnan go through table manners
Kate Middleton is partly responsible for the renewed interest in minding your Ps and Qs
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

Whenever I'm faced with a confusing array of cutlery at a posh event, like most women of my generation, I just think back to Pretty Woman.

In the cult 1990 rom-com about a working girl who falls for a moneybags businessman, Julia Roberts is memorably given a crash course in how not to fork up in a fancy restaurant.

And so it is that I've got the words of Barney the hotel manager ("shrimp fork, salad fork, dinner fork") on loop in my head as I arrive at the Shelbourne in Dublin for my own etiquette masterclass.

In a world of spice bags and burritos, you'd be forgiven for thinking that such old-fashioned table manners were a thing of the past. But that's precisely why Orla Brosnan decided to set up the Etiquette School of Ireland in the first place.

Kate Middleton is partly responsible for the renewed interest in minding your Ps and Qs
Kate Middleton is partly responsible for the renewed interest in minding your Ps and Qs

"Basic rules of etiquette are no longer being handed down from generation to generation," the certified etiquette expert tells me.

"Even within the hospitality industry, a lot of waiting staff don't know the difference between a clear soup spoon and a cream soup spoon. When people think of etiquette, they think of Downton Abbey. But it's not about being stuffy or overly formal - it's just about putting your best foot forward, especially in the world of business."

Launched last week, the school is set to host a three-day etiquette camp for teenagers - covering everything from tableware to what to wear at a cost of €350 - at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin this April.

A one-day business etiquette course (including tips on how to order wine and shake a client's hand) and service staff etiquette course (detailing how to wow customers and dish up seven course meals) are also available.

As a graduate of the 'Irish Mammy school of etiquette', infamous for its use of the wooden spoon to instil good manners in the Eighties, I didn't need to sign up for classes to know that you're not supposed to put your elbows on the table or nip to the loo during dinner.

However, I had no clue that you're meant to scoop your soup away from you (not towards you), use both the fork and spoon for scoffing dessert (as opposed to picking one) and never, ever double dip in the butter.

"During the meal, you should rest your hands in your lap - not on the table - when you're not eating," continues Orla, who acquired all the tricks of the trade at the International Etiquette and Protocol Academy of London.

"Crossing your knife and fork (in an X shape) on the plate shows you're taking a break, while placing them side by side in the six o'clock position signifies that you're finished."

As millennials for whom textspeak has become the norm prepare to join the workforce, etiquette classes are, perhaps unsurprisingly, booming worldwide.

Prim and proper celebrities such as Kate Middleton and Benedict Cumberbatch are sure to be at least partly responsible for the soaring popularity of minding your Ps and Qs too.

As the founder of Assets Model Agency, Derek Daniels is no stranger to striking a pose, and was happy to share his secrets with me. Far from balancing a stack of books on my bonce, the deportment instructor told me to relax my shoulders and raise my head to stretch my 5'2" frame - and stroll with style.

Stopping for a snap moments later, apart from the classic hand-on-hip manoeuvre, I learned to place one foot slightly in front of the other and dip my chin a bit for the ultimate power pose.

"It's a bit like an Irish dancing pose," explains Derek, who also runs his own fashion promotions company.

"Most people keep their fingers together when they put their hand on their hips in photos, whereas actually spreading them out slightly can help make you look slimmer."

Perching with panache proved no less of a minefield during the morning masterclass.

As a convent girl, I'd always been taught that crossing your legs is the most ladylike way to sit - or at least avoid accidentally flashing your knickers.

Turns out that simply keeping them together is the more correct - not to mention comfortable - way. Manspreading is a definite no-no.

At least my outfit (painstakingly selected the night before based on what was clean and what wasn't) got the thumbs up from Tanya Gilligan, the image consultant who helps etiquette students figure out their body shape and dress accordingly.

She deemed my knee-high boots, skinny jeans and drawstring blouse work appropriate, but politely suggested trying a pencil skirt and waist-cinching belt to make more of my curves next time.

These days, of course, the rules of etiquette no longer just apply to fine dining or dressing to impress.

Our online behaviour can also betray whether we were brought up or dragged up, according to the experts, with Facebooking among friends a pet peeve of the school's 'netiquette' teacher Michael Keogh.

"There's absolutely no excuse for being glued to your phone when you're out with someone," he insists. "Your friends shouldn't have to compete with Facebook for your time or attention.

"If you're expecting an important phone call at a certain time, ask the person if they mind if you take it first. Then, when it rings, step away from the table."

With one study showing that the average person spends five hours a day social not-working, it's advice that I vow to take onboard.

Despite losing her voice ahead of the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep certainly had no problem capturing the world's attention as she accepted the Cecil B DeMille Award. Rubbishing the old adage that 'little girls should be seen and not heard', it's an Oscar-worthy trick that all women could do with adopting in the workplace, reckons elocution coach Esther Doorly.

"Counterintuitively speaking lower and slower is the key to getting your message across," explains the real-life Professor Henry Higgins, who shows me some easy exercises to help control my breathing and encourages me to embrace my Meath accent.

"You almost want to have people hanging on the edge of their seats. The moment you start shouting, you've lost everything."

Tottering out of the five-star hotel three hours later, I may not have morphed into Julia Roberts, but I'm definitely feeling a bit more polished, at least. And, as I hold the door open for a thankful stranger, it's clear that letting the principles of etiquette die now would, to quote Pretty Woman herself, be a "big mistake". Huge.

Irish Independent

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