The idea of charm school is really quaint at this point. Girls walking with books on their heads, the back of your hand smacked if you pick up the wrong fork or put your elbows on the table, the thought that you need to practice how to curtsey. Most of these are not practical lessons in our lives anymore. But, if you so choose, there are places you can still go for etiquette lessons.
I recently came across the Etiquette School of New York, which has been around for ten years and offers classes in dining and entertaining, teen etiquette, and even corporate etiquette. There are also online classes at It’s All About Etiquette, and Beaumont Etiquette, which features this woman measuring the distance between flatware with a butler’s stick. Of course, these classes come at a price–the Etiquette School of New York’s adult finishing school will set you back $750.
I’m not sure how I feel about this! On one hand, we believe social graces are important and something that should be more general knowledge. I mean, that’s the point of this damn blog. And running these classes is work and nobody should work for free. The instructors are teaching specific skills and should be fairly compensated–no one should be expected to put in time and effort out of the goodness of their own heart. (To that end, click on our ads so we can make money!)
On the other, however, is the concept of privilege. The idea is that by going through these classes you’ll have the upper hand in social and business interactions by learning the “soft skills” you may not learn in college or elsewhere. Guess who already has the upper hand there? People who can afford $750 for finishing school.
No, you don’t need a class to learn how to give someone a firm handshake and look them in the eye while talking to them, or to say “please” and “thank you.” But I worry that the other skills these classes teach–networking, small talk, “how to make a good first impression”–are being taught to the people who were already in the position to be getting those jobs. That, basically, rich white people are taking classes in the rules rich white people created in order to advance more rich white people.
I’m not saying that’s what these schools are explicitly doing, and hey, it would be amazing if all kids got lessons in table manners early. But the inclusivity is the thing. If we’re going to say a general knowledge of etiquette and manners is necessary to social and professional advancement, those lessons should be available to everyone, whether through formal schooling like this or elsewhere. And if not, well, it’s pretty shitty to hire someone because they’re good at networking when they already had the money to learn how to do it. But, you know, put a book on your head. Posture is really important.