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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid