Go­ing out in style

Last Swiss charm school still teach­ing man­ners, for a price

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

GLION, Switzer­land — Eight women sit primly around an elab­o­rately set ta­ble mak­ing pleas­ant smalltalk about the weather, as im­mac­u­lately starched wait­ing staff stand at the ready.

But as one of the servers steps for­ward hold­ing a sil­ver soup tureen with white­gloved hands, an in­struc­tor helps her ad­just the an­gle of the bowl to make sure the la­dle is fac­ing the diner.

And a sec­ond tu­tor whis­pers in the ear of an­other diner to lower her el­bow as she brings the spoon to her mouth.

The women are not at a fancy restau­rant or a high­end so­cial club, but at Switzer­land’s last fin­ish­ing school, learn­ing to mas­ter good man­ners, strict eti­quette and how to avoid a fa­tal faux pas.

“I re­al­ize now that I have been mix­ing the French style of eat­ing with the Bri­tish style,” said In­sti­tut Villa Pier­refeu stu­dent Heba, ask­ing that her last name not be given.

With some em­bar­rass­ment, the 34-year-old Egyp­tian ex­plained that she had placed her knife on her plate even though she had not used it dur­ing her meal — a no-no in French din­ing eti­quette.

The stu­dents are a di­verse crowd, ac­cord­ing to Vi­viane Neri, who took the reins of the school in 1972 — nearly two decades after her mother founded it.

“Ob­vi­ously we have daugh­ters of pres­i­dents and princesses, but those are def­i­nitely not the ma­jor­ity,” she said.

It is not cheap. De­pend­ing on the for­mula cho­sen, a sixweek course, with ex­ams and

Ob­vi­ously we have daugh­ters of pres­i­dents and princesses, but those are def­i­nitely not the ma­jor­ity.” Vi­viane Neri, who has run the school since 1972

board at the school’s ma­jes­tic manor houses, can cost close to 30,000 Swiss francs ($31,000).

Half a cen­tury ago, the stu­dents at In­sti­tut Villa Pier­refeu were among thou­sands of girls and young women who at­tended a plethora of so-called “charm schools” to pol­ish their man­ners and so­cial graces.

But to­day, Pier­refeu is the only one left, after the in­dus­try was dec­i­mated by the 1968 stu­dent rev­o­lu­tion and rise of fem­i­nism.

For­mer stu­dent Na­dine Abou Zahr, 46, said she had been skep­ti­cal when she first heard about the school while at­tend­ing univer­sity nearby two decades ago.

But the French-Le­banese for­mer fash­ion magazine edi­tor said she could not be more de­lighted with the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Learn­ing good man­ners in my opin­ion is not about snob­bism or su­per­fi­cial­ity. It’s about re­spect, for your­self and oth­ers,” she said.

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