Lessons from Finishing School

Posted by Calissa R on

If I say the words "finishing school," what pops into your head? Pictures of women learning to walk with books on their heads so they can meet the man of their dreams, get married and live happily ever after? That was my first thought about finishing schools, too...until I went to one.

I attended the last traditional finishing school in Switzerland, where I learned all about etiquette, international protocol and hostessing. The focus of finishing schools has gradually shifted since their inception in the early 19th century; there’s no need to go to school to learn how to find a partner, but trust me, there are a few things to learn about conducting business in other countries.

While I didn’t learn how to walk with a book on my head (but I so wish I did), I did pick up a few things that have had a huge impact on the way I behave today. Here are three things that my finishing school taught me.

Memories are made around the dinner table

When I tell people I went to finishing school, they usually start asking me questions about which fork to use at the dinner table. (Tip: you can usually just start on the outside and work your way in.) Going out for dinner or having guests over for dinner is one of the most common social interactions in our society, and there are a few things that you can do so that everyone enjoys their meal. Table manners are so diverse and are constantly evolving, but there are some general table manners that apply across the globe:

• Chew with your mouth closed.
• Keep your phone off the table and set to silent.
• Cut only one piece of food at a time.
• Finish chewing your food before taking a drink.
• Wait until everyone has their food to start eating.

Think global, act local

Part of what makes our world so beautiful is the diversity and varying cultures. There’s something so special about travelling to a new country and experiencing their unique way of life. When you’re in another country, you never want to do something offensive—you are a guest after all. That’s why it’s important to think global (get out there and explore that world), but act local (follow the laws and social norms of the country). Before you visit a new country, I’d suggest doing some research about social norms. Here are some social norms that stood out to me:

• In India, your feet or shoes should not touch another person. On certain occasions, you may touch an elder’s feet out of respect.
• In Japan, business cards should be offered and accepted with both hands.
• In Russia, avoid shaking hands under a doorway. (They view it as bad luck.)
• In many Middle Eastern countries, it’s considered rude to show the bottom of your shoe.

Manners matter

The most important thing I learned in finishing school is just how much manners matter. I’m not talking about which direction you should spoon your soup in (most books say to scoop it away from your face to allow it more time to cool). I’m talking about being considerate of others. That’s what manners come down to—a consideration for others and their feelings. I can tell you exactly how many times to kiss cheeks when greeting someone in the Netherlands (three), but what’s truly important is reading people and following their cues. Be kind and make everyone feel welcome. Think of every social interaction as a party that you're hosting. You want to make sure everyone has a fun time—which is exactly what we try and do at LUX.

Emily Post said it best: “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners—no matter what fork you use.”

Photos by: Brittany Batt

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