Mind your man­ners

Din­ing eti­quette, or a lack thereof, can have a big ef­fect on your so­cial stand­ing, par­tic­u­larly when you are mov­ing in busi­ness cir­cles. Af­shan Ahmed talks to an ex­pert about the golden rules you ig­nore at your peril

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page -

Af­ter sit­ting through a course in ta­ble man­ners last week, I’m con­fi­dent I have pre­vi­ously ru­ined many chances to im­press at for­mal din­ners sim­ply be­cause I did not sit down prop­erly or for­got to place my nap­kin to the left of the plate when I was ready to leave the ta­ble.

Par­tic­i­pants at the Din­ing Like A Diplo­mat work­shop, or­gan­ised by the Pro­to­col School of Wash­ing­ton in Dubai last week, were told that din­ing eti­quette can have a big ef­fect on your so­cial stand­ing, make or break busi­ness deals and even in­flu­ence diplo­matic de­ci­sions.

“We live in a world where peo­ple are com­pared and judged all the time,” says trainer Ghas­san Ha­j­jaj. “And we are al­ways look­ing to give the right im­pres­sion. So when we know proper din­ing eti­quette, you can re­ally fo­cus on much more im­por­tant things such as con­ver­sa­tion. “When you are at a busi­ness din­ner or for­mal gath­er­ing, you aren’t there to fill your stom­ach. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to net­work, ex­change knowledge and you want to fo­cus on that. But if you are sit­ting there and go­ing, ‘Oh dear, which fork do I use now?’ or ‘Am I go­ing for the right glass?’ you do not have the ca­pa­bil­ity to pay at­ten­tion to that.”

The school trains diplo­mats, am­bas­sadors and high-level ex­ec­u­tives around the world in in­ter­na­tional pro­to­cols, cul­tural ori­en­ta­tion, busi­ness eti­quette and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. It started of­fer­ing din­ing eti­quette workshops in the UAE af­ter spot­ting a de­mand for such skills among so­cialites.

“Din­ing skills say a lot about a per­son,” says Ha­j­jaj. “And not know­ing it can be more dam­ag­ing than you would think, es­pe­cially for peo­ple in high po­si­tions. If you haven’t learnt to eat cor­rectly, what else did you miss learning on the way to grow­ing into the po­si­tion you are in.”

Ta­ble man­ners are about more than us­ing the cor­rect cut­lery and nap­kin pro­to­col. There are more sub­tle be­hav­iours, many of which go back cen­turies and stem from aris­to­cratic cer­e­monies in dif­fer­ent cul­tures. Mod­ern ta­ble man­ners date to the 15th cen­tury, when it was com­pul­sory for chil­dren to learn them. The two most widely ac­cepted styles of din­ing are con­ti­nen­tal and Amer­i­can. While both so­ci­eties ate the same way, forks in the right hand, un­til the 1840s, the con­ti­nen­tal way of eat­ing now in­volves hold­ing the fork in the left and knife in the right hand while eat­ing.

“It is not man­nerly to place your el­bow on the ta­ble while eat­ing,” says Ha­j­jaj.

“Just your wrists. And the ap­pro­pri­ate way of sit­ting is to not lean back, but to sit up straight on a high-backed chair.”

Be­ing a guest at a for­mal din­ner also in­volves ad­her­ing to the cul­ture of the hosts. Ha­j­jaj tells how two spies from the United States were dis­cov­ered in Ger­many dur­ing the First World War be­cause of their ta­ble man­ners.

The Ara­bic and Asian styles of eat­ing in­volve us­ing your hands and chop­sticks, re­spec­tively.

“When eat­ing with your hands, the food should be held with your tip of your fin­gers and lightly pushed into the mouth.”

In Ja­pan, stick­ing chop­sticks up­right in a bowl of rice causes un­easi­ness as it is as­so­ci­ated with death.

“It is usu­ally in­cense that is placed up­right that way in fu­neral cer­e­monies,” says Ha­j­jaj. “To rest the chop­sticks, you must use the hash­ioki, chop­stick rest pro­vided or lie them lat­er­ally across the rice bowl.”

As for the place setting, Ha­j­jaj sug­gests us­ing the mnemonic “BMW” to avoid em­bar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tions.

“This makes life eas­ier,” he says. “When we go out din­ing, we have lots of plates, the sil­ver­ware, glasses, which can be con­fus­ing. The im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is bread is al­ways on the left, your meal is in the cen­tre and your wa­ter is on your right. BMW. If you re­mem­ber this you know which bread plate and glass of wa­ter is yours.”

Din­ing eti­quette is also a win­dow into a coun­try’s cul­ture. Mid­dle Eastern gath­er­ings, for ex­am­ple, lay out the ta­ble for shar­ing.

“Af­ter the meal, bukhoor or in­cense is passed around and this is a sig­nal that it is time for you to leave,” he adds. “You do not hang around and make con­ver­sa­tion af­ter this, like is the case in the West af­ter din­ner.” Ha­j­jaj says un­der­stand­ing these nuances takes time and prac­tice, but shows that ef­fort has been made to un­der­stand the lo­cal cul­ture.

“Very few peo­ple we meet get to know the ac­tual per­son we are and so in gath­er­ings we tend to gen­er­alise very quickly based on im­pres­sions,” he says.

“So what you want to do is rep­re­sent your­self and your so­ci­ety and at the same time show you ac­cept their cul­ture and tra­di­tions.”

“You might not be able to learn it all overnight, but one of the best in­vest­ments in be­ing suc­cess­ful is to have din­ing pro­to­col train­ing.”

The Pro­to­col School of Wash­ing­ton or­gan­ises Dine Like a Diplo­mat workshops on re­quest. Email in­fom­ena@psow.edu or call 04 375 7555

Mona Al Mar­zooqi / The Na­tional

Ghas­san Ha­j­jaj demon­strates the proper way to hold cut­lery.

Mona Al Mar­zooqi / The Na­tional

Ghas­san Ha­j­jaj, the eti­quette trainer and con­sul­tant at the Pro­to­col School of Wash­ing­ton.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.