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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid