Minding Your Manners in the Modern Way; Do You Cut Your Bread Roll at Dinner? If So, You May Need Etiquette Training, Says Noreen Barr
Manners in the 21st century may seem passe. This is the age when we eat in front of the television and glower at anyone in our way.
Our casual approach to life does not just stop there. The Prime Minister encourages his Cabinet to call him Tony, believes that dressing up in suits is actually square and is quite happy to talk to reporters clutching a mug of tea.
At home, cold-callers interrupt our evenings while in shops bored assistants hold out their hands for money then thrust back the change without so much as a smile.
Etiquette, you might well think, is now something to be sneezed at - without the aid of a carefully starched handkerchief, of course.
But there are moves to get the nation minding its Ps and Qs again. Books on minding your manners, columns on social niceties and even Internet sites dispensing politeness tips are all clamouring for our attention.
In addition, employees are increasingly likely to find themselves sent to classes to brush up on their social graces. For there is a growing awareness that manners not only maketh a nicer working environment, they also maketh money.
Jacqueline Fraser, who runs an etiquette school in north London called Manners, says around half her pupils are dispatched to her by their bosses.
She says: 'Big companies send customers because they want to make sure their employees are all behaving properly and know how to dress and how to meet customers.
'What people need help with most is behaviour with other people. Introductions are one area - they never quite know when they have to introduce people and what to say or what not to say.
'For example, 'Pleased to meet you' is not the sort of thing you should say. It's not that it's rude, it's just not correct. You should say 'How do you do?'.
'People also want to learn good table manners. They eat in front of the television and probably did not eat with their parents as children. By the time they get to corporate entertaining, they are really at a loss as to what is correct and what isn't.'
Fraser, who set up her school almost three years ago, is clear about why companies are suddenly interested in etiquette.
She says: 'A client can be swayed by politeness. If he likes to deal with somebody who is good-mannered and decent, he will go for that person - if an equal price and equal service are being offered - rather than someone with bad manners.'
Heather Pickering, principal of a new Kent-based company called Protocol Plus, says bluntly of her corporate clients: 'Most of them are in their 20s and I have looked at some of them holding their knives like pencils. I think, 'How did you get into this middle management position and not have observed anything?'
'People also saw bread rolls in half instead of breaking them. That's one of my big bug bears. I have observed a great many Labour mayors merrily sawing away at their bread rolls at official functions. …