Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lady of the manners

From today's Irish Independent...

Why people want to be more like Hepburn... less like Hilton
We are forming an orderly queue to have etiquette schools put some manners on us, says Susan Daly

Tuesday September 15 2009

As anyone who has gone on a blind date will tell you, first impressions really do count.

That simple truth is not just valid in the world of romance. Etiquette schools are reporting an upsurge of enquiries from jobseekers who want to put their best face forward in interviews.

These days, with increasing numbers of newly unemployed people applying for fewer jobs, it is survival of the most presentable. Bad manners, impoliteness and shoddy personal grooming are all guaranteed to put you on the wrong side of an interviewer.

And no, the etiquette schools say, it is not about teaching people how to walk with a pile of books on their head. It's about giving them basic life skills that many of us have forgotten.

"They just want to get that little extra edge," says John Kelly, director of The Finishing Academy in Co Kildare. "Irish people realise that they are now in competition.

"We go into schools with our courses and they are very popular. It is not archaic; it's just basic civility."

Pamela Fay has been teaching etiquette to would-be business bigwigs for years, as the director of businessetiquette.ie. She has had a number of one-to-one clients come to her recently looking for help.

"Most of my work is for training new graduates for big companies to go into business. I give them the dos and don'ts -- everything from how to dress appropriately to how to greet people who are arriving for a meeting. Over the last month, I would say four individuals have come to me who have been made redundant. They want to make sure that they have that extra 10pc."

A book called The Cost of Bad Behaviour, by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, outlines how bad manners can really hurt your business. There is frontline rudeness -- the type of bad behaviour that sends customers screaming to the exit. You're not going to make a return trip to a coffee shop where the waitress ignores you while she chats on her mobile phone.

'Good manners are so very, very important," says Pamela Fay. "I do an annual survey on manners in Irish business, and that survey would show you that if people are not treated well, they will move their business. The biggest thing here is people not smiling. It sets the tone for the whole business."

Her 2007 survey across a range of Irish businesses found that 75pc of those interviewed had been embarrassed by a colleague's manners and 53pc believed that we are less mannerly than 10 years ago. Even if you're not looking for a job, etiquette lessons still might have something to teach you.

Record label publicist Jordan Christy has written a book, How To Be A Hepburn In A Hilton World, which she calls a guide to "the art of living with style, class and grace".

Her argument is that knickerless celebs, their lewd sexual misconduct and very public disgraces have unleashed a backlash of disgust. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan et al have much to answer for as negative role models, she says.

Her book features eye-catching chapter titles like 'Keep Your Chin Up and Your Skirt Down'.

The motivation behind ITV's reality show Ladette to Lady or VH1's Charm School is similar to Christy's book. Producers take a crew of rough and ready women and help them brush up on social protocol, appropriate dressing and more 'ladylike' behaviour (ie, no spitting, no fighting, no swearing).

Far from being an archaic throwback, etiquette is more necessary than ever, says Peggy Carty who has run her school of deportment in Galway for the past 48 years.

It was with Peggy that Grainne and Sile Seoige learned to be the loveliest cailins in the land. Anjelica Huston is another former pupil.

"Deportment is actually a French word that encompasses so much more than you would think. It is the word for physical conduct and mental conduct," says Peggy.

"Whether you like it or not, you form an opinion of someone the instant you meet them," she adds. "The second impression comes when you speak and from what you say. Even table etiquette is so important -- I've sat opposite people who are supposedly successful in business and their table manners were appalling."

There will always be a place for the social graces, she says, now more than ever. "I don't think anyone is in a position to say there is an exactly right or a wrong way -- but there is a better way of doing everything."

How To Be A Hilton In A Hepburn World by Jordan Christy is published by Hachette; Peggy Carty's School of Deportment (peggycarty.com) is in Salthill, Galway at 091 582000; Pamela Fay is director of businessetiquette.ie, 01 2606528; John Kelly's Finishing Academy (finishingacademy.ie) in Naas, Co Kildare is at 045 844080.

Tuesday September 15 2009

Christina Kelly (26), from Clane, Co Kildare, attended a course at The Finishing Academy, Naas, that dealt with modern social and business etiquette.

"I had an image of etiquette school as an American woman in a blazer teaching a group of girls to be ladies, but actually it was very relaxed.

"I didn't tell many people I was doing it for the same reason -- that they would think it was strange. But now I can't stop recommending it.

"It was the business aspect that drew me to it. Some things they tell you might seem like common sense but I got some great tips.

"The biggest thing for me was being taught how to deal with emails and phonecalls. I work in accounts in the building industry and you can imagine we get some people on the phone who are annoyed. It's easy if someone is shouting at you to be angry back.

"The lessons taught me to be more aware of my tone. What I try to do now is keep my voice calm and steady and have an understanding tone. I do find that the more sympathetic you are, the more people tend to back off and calm down because they know they are being heard.

"What was really interesting to me was the crossover between business and social etiquette.

"If you are at a business dinner with work colleagues, it's about trying to find that line, knowing when you should or shouldn't talk about business or who should pay the bill.

"On a social level, there is this whole area they call 'millennium etiquette' -- what was polite in olden days is not necessarily polite now.

"Opening doors for people -- it shouldn't be specific to gender anymore.

"If I'm a woman and I reach a door before a man does, it's only right that I hold it open for him.

"I have to say the lessons have given me confidence -- it's not about changing yourself entirely, it's just about being more aware of how you come across to the world."

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