Going out in style
Last Swiss charm school still teaching manners, for a price
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.