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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid