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How to eat peas, the gentlemanly way
- Businessmen from India and other countries take British etiquette lessons

London, Nov. 12: Indian executives climbing the corporate ladder and having to deal increasingly with businessmen from other cultures are being offered lessons on etiquette and good manners by two British companies, Public Image and the Finishing Academy.

They are run respectively by Diana Mather and Penelope Edge, two women who are prepared to take on the daunting task of teaching desis how to behave when they go abroad.

Mather and Edge clearly believe that “Manners maketh man”, the quotation attributed to the Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham (13241404), who made this saying the motto of the two institutions he founded, Winchester College, a famous public school, and New College, Oxford.

For £200, clients get a briefing on the basics of correct etiquette (“don’t mop up gravy with bread as you would do with a chapatti”). It can go up to £1,000 for a three-day weekend, with golf and shooting thrown in, at a Scottish castle.

Table manners — which knives to use and when — are something which apparently worries Indians but there are also lessons on how to dress, appropriate forms of address, how to avoid overfamiliarity, the right firmness for a handshake and how to touch another person without causing offence or invasion of “private space”.

How to eat peas correctly is a tricky area. They cannot be scooped up but should be manoeuvred on to “the back of the fork”.

There is the apocryphal tale of the young Indian from England who said “thank you” to a bus conductor on a 2B bus in Calcutta, thereby provoking a heated debate among other passengers (“he has given the money, the conductor’s given the ticket, what’s there to say ‘thank you’ for'”). But Mather and Edge encourage the use of the expression in polite Western society.

Indian businessmen — and women — obviously have to come to the UK to attend the classes but with the Indian economy booming at the rate that it is, Mather and Edge feel it may be worth their while to take their expertise to Mumbai and Delhi.

The problem with manners is that what is considered acceptable in one culture may not be in another, and the British themselves have abandoned the rules by which they once lived to the extent that some young British yobs are now considered the worst behaved in the world.

“The English gentleman is still viewed as the most gentlemanly in the world,” Mather maintains. “They are the gold standard. British manners are the passport to success in the boardroom.”

Mather and Edge set up the Finishing Academy but Mather left to develop her own company, Public Image.

According to Mather, a former actress and BBC presenter who gave lessons to Indian women in Mumbai earlier this year, “it is not enough just to be able to do the job, chief executives and top managers need the finesse that puts them at ease in any company”.

“They require a certain amount of polish, which means being familiar with the social graces. A good sense of dress and knowledge of how to use their voices are also essential tools. They should know how to conduct business abroad and how to navigate office politics. Whether your personal ambitions are corporate or social, poor conversational skills, a clumsy walk or a lack of presence won’t get you very far.”

Both Public Image and the Finishing Academy offer weekends in remote Scottish castles. Mather’s is in the 15th century Lickleyhead Castle in Auchleven, Aberdeenshire, which has a great hall, fourposter beds and a wood panelled library — the kind of location that attracts Bollywood films today.

“This unique weekend provides the ideal setting for learning international protocol as well as the essentials of what it takes to become a lady or gentleman,” explains Mather. “Our aim is to take traditional values but put them in a 21st century context. The right behaviour will take you anywhere in society, and good manners are classless, priceless, and ageless.”

Once, young ladies were sent to finishing schools for six to 12 months. Today, says Edge, who will be visiting Delhi from December 918, she instructs Indians and other overseas clients on “how to dress, how to eat, how to talk”.

To ensure one Indian businessman looked right, she saw to it that he had two suits tailored in England.

Edge finds Indians “willing to learn and extremely pleasant”. In the pursuit of “selfimprovement” one Indian rang her up: “He wanted to know how to eat lobster.”

Edge advised him that it was permissible to use fingers so long as he used a finger bowl as well.

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