17 November 2011
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 Are finishing schools hopelessly outdated, or should we bring back etiquette lessons?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?