From The Daily Ardmoreite
Picture this: It’s the dream job of a lifetime and you’ve been called back for a second interview. This time, you’ve been asked to dinner to talk more about your qualifications for the position.
As you work hard to verbally sell yourself, the human resources director watches while you slice your entire steak into chunks and shove large pieces into your mouth. Between bites of meat, you take your roll, slather butter all over the outside, bite off a hunk and put the rest back on the plate. Meanwhile, your butter knife is greasing up the tablecloth where you put it down next to your glass.
During dinner, your cell phone rings. After answering it and dismissing the other party (after all, you are in an interview), you clear off a spot at the table and lay it down so it will be easy to answer the next time it rings. When dinner’s over, you wad up your napkin and deposit it in the center of your plate.
A few days later, you’re regrettably told you don’t fit the image of the company.
What went wrong?
Plenty, according to Deborah King, president of Final Touch Finishing School in Decatur, Texas. Several rules of etiquette were fractured at the dinner, where social skills were as much a part of the job requirement as was business expertise.
Worried how you’d measure up in a real-life situation? King can help. The “etiquette expert” will offer a full day of sessions on “The Art of Etiquette” Saturday at the YWCA, starting with a session from 9 a.m. to noon for boys and girls age 6 to 11. This group is poised to learn telephone etiquette, basic table manners, introductions, personal care, posture, meeting and greeting people, and handshaking.
From 1 to 4 p.m., King will address adolescents and teens 12 to 16 on topics such as communication skills, table manners, posture, handshaking and introductions.
Then, from 6 to 9 p.m., adults will get their chance to learn the basics in professional etiquette and dining as they polish their skills at the dinner table.
A handful of local professionals recently got a sneak preview of what’s in store for participants as they enjoyed a lunch at the YWCA and learned some fundamental table etiquette in the process.
King explained the table setting, why each utensil was placed in its position, what each is used for and how to use them properly. The participants even learned how to use a napkin the correct way — place it in your lap with the fold toward your waist so you can lift the top portion to wipe your mouth while the bottom half keeps your lap protected.
Simple rules, but they make all the difference, King said.
Not all table-manner rules are meant to be stodgy and create a rigid, uncomfortable setting for diners. Some of them are surprisingly rational, like the logic behind only cutting one piece of meat at a time.
“One, you want your plate to look beautiful,” King said. “You don’t want your plate to look like Chop Suey to the other diners, unless that’s what’s being served.
“Plus, when you cut your steak in several pieces, the juices run out and the meat cools, so it’s for your taste pleasure and for the visual pleasure of other diners at the table,” she said.
King assures that her intention is not to act as the “etiquette police,” but to help infuse common courtesy and respect into everyday life, and build a little self esteem in the process.
“I always use the analogy of silver. If you have silver in your home, you know you have to polish it or it will tarnish over time. That’s the same with etiquette. It has to be polished from time to time to keep it sharp,” King said. “I tell people that, really, the goal is about building relationships, and oh, by the way, we’re going to eat.”
King started the quest to learn proper etiquette as a young girl.
“I was the oldest of four girls raised in a single-parent home. Etiquette was something I watched other people do and I said, ‘I need to know those skills,'” she said. “When I was growing up, my mother had some skills she passed along to me — my grandmother moreso — but by the time my children were growing up, there was nothing available.”
Since there were no programs for etiquette at the time, at 18 she turned to modeling school and pageants to learn grace and poise.
“I just took a lot of different avenues for learning opportunities. I wanted a place for my children to go to learn from someone who was not Mom and there wasn’t any place like that,” she said.
Friends urged her to open her own school, which she did in 1989 after being certified through the Protocol School of Washington. Now, she teaches students from 4 to 78 on everything from where to wear a name tag to how to eat a candy bar. And behind it all is a whole lot of character building.
“Kindness and respect is the basis of everything I teach. It’s all content-driven and deals with self-confidence skills,” she said. “It’s not just about where a fork goes or what shoes to wear with what outfit. It’s more about the self-confidence and esteem.”
That’s one of the fringe benefits of learning etiquette, she said. Plus, it can be fun, too.
“I tell everyone it’s like learning a game. If you know the rules, it’s fun. If you don’t know the rules of the game, you get very frustrated and often give up and don’t even bother,” King said. “I find that children, once they learn how to play the game and negotiate through the setting, they love it.”
Participants in the preview class learned some interesting and fun ways to negotiate their own tables.
“I did pick up a few pointers,” Curtis Davidson said. “The main thing was the bread and the drink. And I learned I was doing some things right. I think it’s something important for children to come to and adults, too. It all starts with adults having proper manners.”
King showed her guests how to determine at a crowded table which bread and which drink were theirs by holding up their index fingers and making circles with the other fingers and thumbs. The result — the left hand looks like a “b” and the right hand looks like a “d,” meaning your bread will always be on the right and your drink on the left. She suggests doing this under the table, however, to keep it discreet.
King relishes in the positive feedback she gets from her students, and the parents of her students, but said there is a drawback to her profession.
“One of the downfalls of my job is nobody wants to eat with me,” she said. “But in 15 years, I’ve never had anybody walk away and say, ‘I knew everything.’
“I look at it like a beautiful choreography of music, dance and art,” she said. “You’re nourished by the environment, you’re nourished by conversation and you’re nourished by everything happening around the table. We’re either intimidated by it or nourished by it.”
Kevin Butler, who attended the noon session, agreed.
“I definitely learned things. I’m looking forward, I hope, to the adult class to learn more,” he said. “I think just to know the proper etiquette, you’ll feel comfortable in any social setting.”
Glen Rodebush said he realized how much etiquette he’d forgotten after the short time with King.
“I had a little exposure to it in the past and, in my case, I admit I’ve forgotten a lot,” he said. “I lived in Europe, where it was more important to be formal. I think a lot of people would get a lot of good out of being in this program.”