When I was younger, my parents would regularly threaten to enroll me in finishing school. As a suburban tomboy, I lacked some of the finer social graces, like the inability to properly mask contempt for some of my peers.
So, needless to say, they were absolutely delighted when I told them I’d be taking an intensive six-hour etiquette course as part of The Plaza Hotel’s Finishing Program with Beaumont Etiquette.
The morning of my class, I had trepidations about my outfit (a Lilly Pulitzer sweater dress and Barbour jacket owned by most of Manhattan) but I wanted to be comfortable—and upon arrival, my fears were confirmed. I was greeted by Myka Meier, the exquisite founder of Beaumont Etiquette, who quickly put my ensemble to shame. Wearing a white pussy bow button-down, black equestrian leggings, heels, and ornate emerald earrings, she looked every bit like a woman who trained under a former member of Queen Elizabeth II’s royal household.
My classmates and I—about 15 or so women and a sprinkle of men—settled into a suite, which would serve as our “classroom” for the day. I was somewhat surprised to learn that I was one of the few NYC residents; students had traveled from D.C. and East Hampton to attend, and while most people were hoping to brush-up on their social etiquette, others saw the course as an opportunity for business networking.
A selection of my takeaways (trust me, there was a full day’s worth) from the class included:
THE PURPOSE OF ETIQUETTE
1. Etiquette, it seems, is all about instilling confidence. Meier encouraged us to ignore any lingering social anxiety—the voice in your head telling you everything that you’re doing is wrong—and instead, concentrate on the people you’re with.
2. Etiquette shouldn’t be confused with snobbery. It’s about being kind, thoughtful, and—if you’re the host—putting everyone before yourself. For example, the extra cutlery at a dinner setting may look pretentious, but in actuality, its purpose is to provide your guest with everything he/she could possibly need.
3. Modern etiquette dictates that handshakes are gender neutral; both parties are expected to stand.
4. When in doubt, give someone a handshake (always right hand to right hand) rather than a hug or air kiss. Remember there is a thin line between an assertive handshake and an aggressive one.
5. Make eye contact and smile while shaking hands. Never place your hand above or below the other person’s—the webs of your fingers should touch. (Placing your hand above someone else’s asserts that you’re in control of them.)
6. Business meetings are about getting down to business, so stick with two “hand pumps” only. If it’s a social scenario, shoot for three “hand pumps.”
7. Air kisses are always right cheek to right cheek. NYC and Manila do one kiss and everywhere else, two is standard. Whatever you do: make sure that there’s no lip and skin contact.
8. Be cautious of speaking with your hands or cursing—both imply that you don’t have the correct verbiage to express yourself properly.
9. Say ‘excuse me’ instead of ‘pardon’ or ‘sorry.’ Pardon is used by service staff, and—let’s be real—you’re not sorry most of the time.
10. Don’t say ‘ladies first’ anymore. Contemporary etiquette is more gender-neutral.
11. Use the phrase ‘please enjoy,’ rather than ‘bon appetit.’ The latter is outdated.
12. If you’re a woman who wants to sit formally, knees and ankles must never part. Both heels must stay on the ground. You can, however, slant your legs like the Duchess of Windsor for comfort’s sake. Men can just sit up straight because life isn’t fair.
13. Never put your elbows on the table, regardless of whether it’s a business or dining situation. Resting your forearms on the table is just fine.
14. For every minute that you’re late, give the person you’re meeting two minutes of advance notice. If you’re running ten minutes late, for instance, inform the other party twenty minutes beforehand.
15. Don’t apologize profusely if you’re late. If you make it a big deal, it becomes a big deal.
16. Only service staff put fingers on top of saucers, bowls, and dinnerware. Everyone else places fingers below.
17. Coffee mug handles are to sit at 3:00. Spoons stir from 12 to 6, without making a clinking sound.
18. When pouring tea and coffee, hot liquid is always followed by cold.
19. High tea is a meal. Afternoon tea is formal tea with proper tea settings, biscuits, scones and the like.
20. Discards like olive and cherry pits, bones, and tea bags go to the upper left of the plate. On that note, “how it goes in is how it comes out.” If an olive pit went in with your fingers take it out with said fingers. Sauces go to the bottom right of the plate.
21. Stay two hands width away from any table.
22. Upon sitting at a restaurant, put your napkin on your lap immediately. If you’re dining at a private home, wait until the host or hostess does so first before following suit. Make sure the crease is always facing you.
23. When wiping your mouth or a stain, make sure to dab at it with the interior of the napkin. This way, when you put the napkin back in your lap it won’t stain your bottoms.
24. Napkin on the chair is a sign to service staff that you’re coming back. Pinch and place the napkin to the left of your plate as a signal to the service staff when you’re done with the meal.
25. Don’t announce that you’re going to the men’s or ladies room. Instead, say “excuse me.” No one wants to envision what you do when you leave their company.
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.