News / Europe

Last Swiss Finishing School Admits Men for First Time

Guillaume, a French student takes part in a conversation role during a session on English dining during the Intensive Etiquette Courses at the Institut Villa Pierrefeu in Glion near Montreux, western Switzerland, October 22, 2013.
Guillaume, a French student takes part in a conversation role during a session on English dining during the Intensive Etiquette Courses at the Institut Villa Pierrefeu in Glion near Montreux, western Switzerland, October 22, 2013.
Reuters
The sign on the door with a stick figure of a man overlaid with a big “X” will have to go now that the last Swiss finishing school, bending to economic reality and social change, is accepting men.
 
The Institut Villa Pierrefeu, located on a hill above Lake Geneva, is the last in a line of institutions that struggled to shake their image as “schools for princesses” after Lady Diana Spencer, who later became Princess Diana, attended one in the same canton.
 
In their heyday before feminism stirred in the 1960s, European aristocrats sent their daughters to finishing schools in safe, neutral Switzerland to polish their manners and prepare them for married life.
 
About half a dozen such schools once flourished in the French-speaking Alps, but the others have closed as young women have instead chosen to attend university and pursue careers.
 
Now part of the demand for the last surviving school is coming from a very different segment of the population - men.
 
“Men are starting to realize that like it or not, we are also judged by our manners,” Philippe Neri, who is the grandson of the school's founder and was dressed in dark suit and pink tie, told Reuters during a recent visit to the school.
 
He recalled how he once witnessed a deal in a restaurant collapse after a Western man offered his Japanese business partner a Swiss army knife as a gift.
 
“It was clear that the Japanese man thought the message was that the other wanted to cut off ties. The atmosphere went cold,” he said.
 
No more serving
 
The school has opened its doors to a more international and older, clientele and this year accepted men for the first time as part of the process of adapting its curriculum to stay relevant and compete with rival schools in emerging markets.
 
Sewing has been dropped and Neri said that, contrary to the stereotype, students have never had to balance books on their heads.
 
Instead, male and female students want to learn about etiquette and protocol to gain a competitive edge with international clients through courses on small talk, dress codes and the “dos and don'ts of giving gifts”.
 
Around a dark wooden table lit by candelabras, students on an intensive etiquette course were learning how to behave at a formal British dinner party.
 
Guillaume Rue, a 26-year-old Frenchman and the only male in the class, began by making polite conversation about holiday destinations but blundered in reaching for his bread roll.
 
Teacher Irene Vargas de Huber gently rebuked him: “The host will think you're starving if you eat before the first course.”
 
A student from China was told off for eating too quickly and was urged to make conversation to take pressure off her host who was struggling to eat and entertain simultaneously.
 
For Yann Olivier Tavernier, the 39-year-old managing director of GMHBI International which distributes Swiss cosmetics, these are exactly the type of costly faux pas he is seeking to avoid with clients.
 
“Clients in the luxury sector are very demanding. If we are well-mannered, then they will take that as their first impression of the product,” he said, adding that the course helped him to better understand clients in Russia.
 
Rue agreed that table manners could help create the right impression: “I think that we have a tendency to underestimate the importance of soft power. It's about knowing how to adapt to different situations and making other people feel comfortable.”
 
New rivals
 
While the last Swiss finishing school has outlived its peers, a growing challenge is coming from rival institutes in the fast-developing BRICS countries to cater to the tastes of an emerging upper middle class.
 
This year, for example, former student Sara Jane Ho launched a Chinese finishing school in Beijing.
 
Ho said Institute Sarita has been successful in attracting U.S. executives from Fortune 500 countries for its Chinese etiquette course. It also offers a five-day gentleman's course.
 
Neri dismissed the challenge of the new schools.
 
“It's the same as the watch industry. If you want the highest quality, you stick with Swiss.”

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs