Learning etiquette in a global context

Updated: 2013-01-28 09:59

By Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)

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Chinese businesswomen seek international sophistication as they go abroad more often

Fashion consultant Jiang Zaozao didn't feel confident when dining at Western restaurants until recently.

"Most of the time I didn't really know how to use a fork properly or which knife to use to cut meat," said the 30-year-old Beijing socialite, who has frequent meetings with executives and designers from Europe. "I want to feel good about myself and be respected by my friends."

Learning etiquette in a global context

Sara Jane Ho (right), an etiquette specialist,demonstrating to her students the etiquette of dining at a Western restaurant at Park Hyatt Hotel in Beijing. [Photo / China Daily] 

A recent course to teach Chinese nouvelle riche women etiquette has boosted Jiang's confidence. She learned European etiquette through real-life practice, from handshaking, folding napkins and how to walk elegantly in heels.

Sara Jane Ho, a Beijing-based etiquette specialist and founder of Institute Sarita, brought what she learned from Switzerland's last traditional finishing school to China to create Western-style table manners, business etiquette, appropriate dressing and hostess skills.

A native of Hong Kong, Ho left at an early age to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, an elite boarding school in the United States. She graduated from Georgetown University and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

After Harvard, Ho went to Swiss Institut Villa Pierrefeu, where she was inspired to start teaching etiquette in China. Of a class of 30 students, there are only two or three Europeans. Most of them were from developing countries, she recalled.

As China's economy grows, Chinese citizens are getting richer, creating an explosion in Sino-foreign exchanges on citizen-to-citizen levels in recent years, Ho said.

Negative media reports and shared stories from her overseas friends about Chinese misbehaving abroad prompted Ho to bring the concept of etiquette to China. "I want to empower people to become etiquette-aware," she said. "Even I know I will only influence a few people. I do believe if they go on to change people around them we can create an etiquette movement."

Her school currently only recruits female students. Most of them are second generation rich or wives from wealthy families and some are top business professionals from the private sector and even State-owned enterprises.

"We are training leaders of Chinese social circles. Some of my students work at State-owned enterprises and they are keen to interact with foreigners and to establish the rules of courtesy," she said. "To me it is very promising. The fact the individual is so interested in learning is a very positive sign for the Chinese economy."

Ho said her school will teach her students about self conservation and help them understand why they do what they are doing." Some people are not aware of their actions and cause offence because they haven't been taught the framework and references for what etiquette is," she said.

"We are teaching, not lecturing. It is a daily practice or a rehearsal," she said. "Students become accustomed to use and apply etiquette in everyday life so it becomes second nature. Practice makes perfect."

She gave an example, placing a knife blade on the plate in front her. "The knife blade is sharp. You don't want to face your neighbor with it. Behind every seemingly superficial move is a Chinese value of consideration and selflessness."

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