Chin Up: Manners maketh man
Violins play softly in the background while the elite, with backs straight and heads held high, drink tea from fine china, pinkies in the air.
If this is the scene that comes to mind when you think of a finishing school, you'll be disappointed to know the School of Etiquette in Sandhurst, Johannesburg is nothing like that.
There are no airs and graces. No noses in the air. No prim teacher instructing you to walk with a book on your head to perfect your posture. Even in the stately home with the suitably posh name, Le Chatelat, in one of the continent's most expensive suburbs, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.
On a cloudy Wednesday, I'm seated with five others waiting to be tutored in, as the school's slogan says, "the art of finesse''.
Courtenay Carey walks into the grand foyer of the mansion - which is also a boutique hotel - in a white lace dress, black opaque tights and black court shoes, blonde hair tied back.
She is graceful and makes walking like a cat, one foot directly in front of the other, look effortless. The 25-year-old is the co-founder of the etiquette school with her mother, Sharon, who will be giving today's lesson on how to dine like a diplomat.
The four-hour workshop aims to teach participants how to be "poised, confident and professional at even the most intimidating tables". In addition to learning about table settings, how to fold a napkin and how to sit down elegantly, we learn how to approach undesirable social situations, such as attending a function alone.
"Etiquette is for whoever wishes to make themselves more comfortable in certain situations," Sharon says.
Sharon, whose home has hosted everyone from CEOs to visiting politicians, tells us about host duties. We learn there is more to seating than keeping enemies apart, how to make a toast and which topics are taboo at the dinner table.
The most useful advice is what to do when meeting new people at a social function when you arrive alone.
"Don't run to the bar first. Scan the room, with your shoulders back and chin up. Look at the various groups of people, analyse their body language."
Approach the person who is alone or an odd-numbered group as these are more open and often easier to penetrate. When you introduce yourself, explain who you are to start the conversation.
Good or, even better, impeccable manners, go a long way. The school's aim is to give you a little nip and tuck.
- Call 083-562-8226 or visit www.etischool.co.za. Course prices start from R2950