Han­dling the hand­shake

Friday - - Society -

It is al­most 10am and I have ar­rived 25 min­utes late for my class on ‘English man­ners’. Like many peo­ple I know, I am quite re­laxed about it – in Dubai most peo­ple are ‘fash­ion­ably late’. The dozen or so men aged from about 30 to 50 at the RitzCarl­ton – all sac­ri­fic­ing their week­ends to learn some man­ners at the Es­sen­tial Gen­tle­men’s Eti­quet­teWork­shop – are al­ready milling around the drinks ta­ble, some grab­bing a bite of break­fast. When Wil­liam Hanson, who has made a name for him­self as the UK’s lead­ing eti­quette and royal pro­to­col ex­pert, comes to greet me warmly, I don’t sense any­thing is amiss, even though I apol­o­gise for my tar­di­ness.

It’s only later when the ses­sion is in progress that I re­alise the ex­tent and irony of my eti­quette crime. “Never ar­rive more than 20 min­utes past your ap­point­ment time,” Wil­liam says, his smooth mel­liflu­ous voice brook­ing no dis­sent. I would have been even more ashamed had I not at least done some­thing right: re­al­is­ing I would be late I’d called up to let the or­gan­iser know. Around me I watched a few men squirm – I’d seen them sneak in much later than me.

Wil­liam, our in­struc­tor, is just 24 years old, but al­ready has a list of achieve­ments as long as the el­e­gant pink tie he’s wear­ing. He’s a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to news­pa­pers and TV shows and sta­tions, in­clud­ing BBC Break­fast, ITV’s This Morn­ing, CNN, and also BBC Ra­dio 5 Live. In Eng­land he’s bet­ter known as ‘Mr Man­ners’.

A brochure I was given at the door told me that he had been teach­ing eti­quette and man­ners since he was 18 at The English Man­ner, a com­pany founded in 2001 by Alexan­dra Messervy, for­mer mem­ber of the Royal House­hold of the Queen.

The com­pany spe­cialises in pro­vid­ing “con­tem­po­rary eti­quette and pro­to­col tu­ition, sup­port con­sul­tancy and be­spoke train­ing” for in­di­vid­u­als and groups, ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

“Good man­ners are self-less, not self­ish,” Wil­liam be­gins, and sud­denly we get the feel­ing that this is go­ing to be a mo­ral­ity class. “It is all about treat­ing peo­ple with re­spect, hav­ing sel­f­re­spect and re­tain­ing your own per­son­al­ity, but not be­ing abrupt with peo­ple.”

But isn’t that what every­body’s taught as a child, which trans­lates to com­mon sense? “Yes, eti­quette and good man­ners are com­mon sense,” he says. “It is about be­ing nice to peo­ple. Sadly, many par­ents don’t have the time, in­cli­na­tion or, in some cases, the knowl­edge to pass th­ese skills on to their chil­dren.”

Wil­liam has his own the­ory on why stan­dards and man­ners have de­te­ri­o­rated – he squarely blames the ‘lib­eral 1960s’, al­though he has no first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of the decade. It set me think­ing; How did such a young man be­come an ex­pert in man­ners?

Wil­liam’s in­ter­est in eti­quette be­gan at age 12 when he was given a copy of De­brett’s Eti­quette andModern Man­ners by his grand­mother. “I read it be­cause you have to read books that are pre­sented to you,” he dead­pans. But the truth was he en­joyed it, and the books kept mul­ti­ply­ing as his in­ter­est and knowl­edge of the topic grew. By the time he was 15, he was coach­ing boys in his school in ba­sic mat­ters like lay­ing a din­ner ta­ble cor­rectly, and by 18, re­al­is­ing that there was a ca­reer to be built on his in­ter­est, he started work­ing full time as an eti­quette con­sul­tant.

Over the years, Wil­liam con­trib­uted to the com­men­tary on the wed­ding of Prince Wil­liam and Kate Middleton and the Queen’s Di­a­mond Ju­bilee for the likes of the BBC and CNN. Wil­liam’s work­shops are both the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal. He shows us how to be­come con­fi­dent gen­tle­men. “Ev­ery­thing starts with the hand­shake,” he says, and tells us it orig­i­nates from when gen­tle­men car­ried swords in scab­bards on their left hip, and drew their weapon with their right hand. “Pre­sent­ing one’s hand out­stretched, away from the body, and with the palm open, showed that one was not car­ry­ing a weapon and meant no harm,” he says. He adds, “The hand­shake is of­ten the only skin-on-skin con­tact one has with a per­son and many peo­ple have bad hand­shakes. They are ei­ther bone-crush­ers or limp fishes. What one should be aim­ing for is the mid­dle ground: firm, but not too firm.”

Wil­liam has a four-step guide for shak­ing hands cor­rectly. “Keep your left hand by your side. Don’t use it to grasp the other per­son’s arm or place it on top of their right hand as this shows, un­con­sciously, that you want to

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