Etiquette schools begin to flourish in Shanghai

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-25 17:53:01

Chinese clients learn dining table etiquette at the Académie de Bernadac in Shanghai. Photo: Courtesy of Guillaume Rué de Bernadac

Confucius (551 - 479 BC), the great philosopher whose teachings have shaped a great part of Chinese culture and social morals, formalized etiquette and manners in China to a large extent.

For example he advocated the use of chopsticks over knives when eating food. "The honorable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen," he said.

Away from the table he advised followers not to slouch. "Do not saunter about with a haughty gait nor stand with one foot raised," he warned.

Confucius's recommendations of etiquette were established thousands of years before France's King Louis XIV set about defining manners and etiquette but now it seems, many Chinese are taking advice on etiquette from the French or from Western countries.

The new emerging middle class in China is becoming well travelled and it wants not just to see other cultures in their environment but to be part of them as well.

Proper dining

Hence the emergence of etiquette schools where people can learn how to dine properly and behave in the Western tradition of manners rather than the Chinese tradition.

Guillaume Rué de Bernadac is the founder of the Académie de Bernadac in Shanghai. Several years ago he came to Shanghai from France as an exchange student at Tongji University.

"I was amazed by the culture differences, that people were behaving very differently than in France. What is rude in France is very normal here. What was rude here is normal in France," Rué de Bernadac told the Global Times.

Encouraged by his grandmother who had taught etiquette in the court of the King of Morocco since 1920s, Rué de Bernadac decided to come back to China to do what she had done in Morocco.

Most of his customers are well-educated middle or upper class Chinese with an appreciation of quality. "They don't want to just buy expensive goods. What they want is living and experience. They want something different. They want a life in another culture. They know the world is big and there's a lot of culture. So they are curious and they are very international. We hear often about the nouveau riche. But here, often, they are not noveau riche. They are smart enough to know that if they go abroad they have to adapt to it in the same way I have adapted to China as a foreigner. They are already successful in China and they want to be successful in the rest of the world. They are very ambitious and smart," Rué de Bernadac said.

Guillaume Rué de Bernadac is the founder of the Académie de Bernadac. Photo: Courtesy of Guillaume Rué de Bernadac

He is well aware of the traditions of Chinese etiquette but he believes this is a different etiquette and they need to learn the Western form.

A tradition of sharing

"There are some things that Chinese people usually neglect to do when eating. One is sitting with a straight back. The other is not using their phones while dining with friends. When people dine in restaurants they are supposed to talk, not call or text people. If you have to, you apologize and do it very quickly and then hide your phone. Using the phone while dining is something I see very often in restaurants. I think it is a pity because China has such a fine tradition of sharing, like at tables you share the food," Rué de Bernadac said.

 His favorite course teaches dining table manners. In his two-day course his clients learn how to use serviettes, how to speak well, "international" politeness, and how to look confident. The two-day course costs 10,000  yuan ($1,536) which he describes as the "market price." Most taking this course are young people who will go overseas later.

"The parents want their kids to be more successful than they are. They invest a lot to make their kids good at what cannot be learned at school. You can go to the most expensive school but you can't learn this. That's why they come to us. Because they want to learn more," Rué de Bernadac said.

Women are the target clients for the Institute Sarita, a boutique finishing school opened by Sara Jane Ho in 2012. Institute Sarita operates from a traditional courtyard in Beijing, and a villa on a heritage street in the former French concession in Shanghai.

The institute runs two programs - a hostess course for married women and a debutante's course for single women. Both courses run for 10 days and cost 80,000 yuan. 

This course includes teaching young women horse riding, polo, golf and skiing alongside elocution and hat etiquette - the sort of subjects that other etiquette schools offer.

"We target ladies only (16 and over). Traditionally, finishing schools were for ladies from affluent backgrounds who needed to entertain and be presentable. We want to maintain this niche and help empower women to have the confidence and knowledge to be able to handle any situation with grace," Ho said.

Ho said that finishing schools around the world were declining. Traditionally finishing schools were designed for women who could not attend university or join the work force. Because society has changed and women can now go to university or go to work, there is not the same need to learn the social graces, deportment and manners taught at finishing school.

Vital for everybody

"However, we believe that etiquette is vital for everybody - no matter what culture or background - and we are redefining etiquette to make it fresh, dynamic and relevant," Ho said.

Ho said that since she opened the schools in 2012, many other etiquette schools have tried to open in China but she sees them as partners rather than competitors.

"I welcome them because we share the same goal - which is to help Chinese better understand the world, and better express themselves to the world," Ho said.

Another woman trying to help others is Hong Hui, a former chief flight attendant with 10 years experience, she is in the process of opening an etiquette school.

"I have served many first class passengers and I got the impression they were wealthy but knew nothing about etiquette. I've seen passengers in first class drinking coffee with a spoon," Hong said.

"I have been worried whether people would be willing to pay to learn etiquette. It might be difficult at the beginning but I am confident Chinese people will want to learn about etiquette in the future," Hong said. Already she has personally tutored an executive assistant for one of the leading top 500 global companies.

Hong is not the only one seeing the potential of this market. She said that since the beginning of the year several other etiquette schools have opened in Shanghai.

"There will be more and more competition. People want to grasp this business opportunity, mostly in first-tier cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. I know several former airhostesses who now teach etiquette. As flight attendants we have an advantage but still you need to have an international background," Hong said.

Rué de Bernadac also agrees that China is a booming market compared to Europe.

"In Europe when I say I teach etiquette people would probably think how people dare go to your class to learn this. In Europe you are supposed to have it already. It is mostly done by the parents. Parents would think they were bad parents if they didn't teach their children etiquette. But in China this is new," Rué de Bernadac said.

In the West, learning etiquette usually starts in early childhood. Photo: Courtesy of Guillaume Rué de Bernadac

More travel

"It began three or four years ago. It is very new. I think because now people know that buying things is not enough. Also over the last few years Chinese people have started doing business in Europe and in the US. Since 2000 Chinese people have been traveling a great deal. It takes more time to realize that maybe 'Ok we've been abroad and if we want to be more successful we will need to learn more.' It takes time," Rué de Bernadac said.

He said although there were also etiquette schools in Europe they were on a smaller scale and the clients were people from developing countries.

"The demand is increasing a lot. This trend exists in India, Mexico and in some African countries as well. You never lose money if you invest in yourself and your children," Rué de Bernadac said.

Newspaper headline: Guides for good manners

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, City Panorama

blog comments powered by Disqus