Thoroughly Modern Michelle; Do Social Manners Leave You Vexed? Never Sure How to Approach Formal Dining? A New Etiquette School Is Teaching Girls How to Be Kate Middletons-in-Training. It Turned Our Writer into A

Article excerpt

Byline: by Michelle Fleming

THERE I was, walking down the street, without a care in the world, completely oblivious to the fact that my dress was tucked into my pants. It took a lorry driver with a grubby grin stopped at the traffic lights to point it out. As I recounted this near-death-by-humiliation experience to two friends recently, one sniggered: 'Only you, you're a disaster.' Reckless, agreed the other. It suddenly struck me I can give the impression of being, to put it politely, a tad less sophisticated than I'd like. To put it bluntly, sometimes I act as if I've been dragged up.

So, I've decided, it's high time to say bye bye Vicky Pollard and hello Kate Middleton.

My crash course with manners and etiquette expert Fiona McKeon begins in Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel.

Fiona, 44, lives in Cabinteely with husband Paul, who works in the technology sector. She exudes the manner of a benign teacher and as it turns out she was a primary teacher for eight years before embarking on an MA Ed (Leadership and Management in Education) and rebranding herself as an image and style consultant before setting up the Irish Image Consultants Institute with a partner.

She also teaches personal development part-time in Froebel College of Education and has now opened an etiquette and style school, a sort of 21st century finishing school for teenage girls.

Modules include first impression management, deportment, fashion colour, style, make-up and grooming and dining etiquette.

It might sound a little old-hat but when jobs are scarce, you don't want to give a prospective employer or business contact any chance to pass on you. Consider that the results of a 2010 survey found that 90 per cent of employers admitted to not hiring someone, despite a great CV, because they looked scruffy.

And even in fields such as engineering, figures point to 15 per cent of one's financial success being due to technical knowledge and about 85 per cent due to people skills and temperament.

Hoping to make a good impression on my new mentor, I keep my attire relatively business-like, and decide on a black dress with tights, a herringbone blazer jacket and red, heeled shoes with an ankle-strap. True to form, I snap the strap as I leave my house and, not wanting to risk being late, hastily pull on the first pair of shoes I see, a pair of comfy brown boots.

It's a midweek lunchtime and the No. 27 lounge bar is almost booked out, with tables of slick professionals and brigades of lunching ladies. Honestly, I'd much rather be having a cheese toastie in the pub around the corner but today I'm out to impress. Despite a waitress's unwitting attempts to derail the entire afternoon by saying I hadn't made a booking, we eventually locate the lost lunch reservation, and assume our seats by the window.

Needless to say, Fiona's manners are impeccable and she smiles serenely despite the fact that she clearly has something of a boor in her midst.

For a starter, I order French onion soup and she follows suit. She explains that the host always leads so now I'm worrying whether she's dying for a steak or a glass of wine. I'm definitely remaining a wine-free zone -- a few glasses and Fiona might just wave her white napkin and give up altogether.

'You follow the host's lead in every way, the expense and whether they choose wine. You let the host order the wine. If they insist, you don't order the expensive one but ask for their opinion so you have an idea. Watch if they're sipping and stay on a par.'

She assures me: 'But I did want the soup -- and I'm driving.' Then as if reading my mind, she warns: 'You should be careful when ordering things like frizzy lettuce and spaghetti in front of someone you're trying to impress. Think if it will be messy, like lobster, or...' French onion soup?

Even my brothers, far from a decorous pair, have remarked on my habit of sucking soup through my teeth so while I concentrate on not slurping, I miss my mouth and learn lesson number one on the polite art of drinking soup, the hard way. …