The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

17 November 2011

Finishing touches

I recently read a novel about etiquette. Doesn't that sound great?

It was actually very entertaining and quite funny - sort of a more put-together, less ribald Bridget Jones. The book, "The finishing touches" is about Betsy Phillimore who was left on the back step of a London finishing school in a marmalade crate, a diamond bumble bee pinned to her blanket, with a note saying this was the best place to leave a girl to be brought up right.

And indeed she was; Betsy learned social etiquette and graces at the feet of a master - Lady Phillimore, Betsy's adopted mother. The novel is about Betsy's return to the school as an adult with the intention of revamping the curriculum to make it relevant for young women of today.  For example, knowing how to identify and use a shrimp fork is rather quaint, but being confident when eating sushi in public is valuable. Being able to balance books on your head is rather silly, but posing well for paparazzi (or passport photos) is more likely to be useful in this day and age. While our mothers and grandmothers had to know how to plan the seating arrangements for regular husband's-job-type dinner parties, women of today benefit more from knowing where the bathroom shut-off valve is, and how to find a good mechanic.

While manners and social graces are important for smoothing awkward situations or soothing ruffled feathers we are no longer formally taught how to behave.

What do you think?  Are finishing schools hopelessly outdated, or should we bring back etiquette lessons?  What do you wish you had been taught before you faced the world on your own?


  1. As a man and at the risk of sounding sexist I have to say that yes, etiquette should be brought back and proper behavior is never outmoded. Whether ladies realize it or not, they very often control the behaviors of men by their own behavior.

    If a woman acts or speaks in a way that is less than ladylike, a man, the weakest of creatures, will see this as an indication on her part that he is free to pursue his 'basest' desires and most times, will act upon them.

    Yet, if a woman exhibits the most ladylike of behavior, and by this behavior and speech makes known with no uncertainty, that a man's one brow behavior will not be tolerated, most times (some exceptions) men will back off and try to exhibit some sort of civility, such as they have come to understand it. Women can and do have this power and need to understand that and apply it. If it is left up to the man, then all bets are off.

    It is unfortunate that the burden seems to be placed on women, but that is the world I'm afraid. Roles have been blurred between men and women, yet even if women need to learn such practical things as turning off a valve in the bathroom, that is no different than the pioneer woman of old having to fend for herself and children while her husband was off for days and weeks hunting. Being capable of the practical does not negate the need for politesse and/or etiquette and civility.

    My role as a man was taught by our mother, she being a stay at home mother, and reinforced by our father. That is the value of having a traditional family and learning etiquette and civility.


  2. I've noticed the same thing, Bobby, that the woman sest the standard when men and women are together. I find it more shocking... more painful, almost, when a woman is rude or crude, than when it comes from a man. Double standard? Yes. Unfair? Sure. But what's true, is true regardless.
    I really think it would be beneficial to bring back deportment classes. Why not teach these useful skills rather than let awkward kids become floundering adults?

  3. No thoughtful insights, just the comment that I love etiquette and wish wholeheartedly that more people (men and women . . . and children too) knew and followed even some of the basic rules of etiquette.