• Etiquette as First Course in a Career

    Friday, August 25, 2006
    News Type

Sophomores smooth out rough edges in 1958–2008 Class Connections etiquette dinner

As students pulled chairs up to tables, lowered napkins to laps, and eyed the formal place settings, the self-consciousness in the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Would you then lay the knife on the table with its edge facing inward or outward?

If you know your dining etiquette, you'd place it, edge turned either way, not on the table but on your plate next to your fork, and you'd angle the two like a clock hand in the 4 o'clock position, indicating to the waiter that your plate may be cleared.

This tip was one of the many pieces of advice genially dispensed by manners guru Peter Post to sophomores and alumni gathered for the 1958–2008 Class Connections etiquette dinner at the Hanover Inn on August 21. Through the Alumni Relations Class Connections program, the incoming class each fall is linked to the class fifty years out.

“We cooked dinner with some of the students at the alumni cabin during their freshman trip,” said class president Ralph Manuel '58, “but this is the first chance we've had to get a lot of them together.”

This event, which focused on business dining and job interview etiquette, brought 100 young internship hopefuls and 25 alumni of a perhaps more decorous generation together for a formal dinner and a primer on manners by Post, great-grandchild of the famed Emily. In addition to heading the Emily Post Institute, Peter is the author of several books, including the New York Times bestseller Essential Manners for Men, and writes a column on business etiquette for the Boston Globe.

While navigating from strawberry soup to greens with champagne vinaigrette, to main dishes, and finally to crème brulee, students chatted companionably with alumni about their internship prospects and foreign study, as well as the how-tos of professional decorum. For example, Chelsea Jia '08, who was seated at Post's table, noted that her strategy for a group lunch interview for an internship was to eat something before it.

“My great-grandmother gave my brother and me books titled How to Be a Gentleman and How to Be a Lady,” said Jackie Benson '08. “We thought they were kind of funny, and we switched them. Has etiquette changed a lot over the years?”

Raymond Robbins '58, who is retired as a headmaster at schools in the United States and Switzerland, recalled teaching that during the Renaissance, a knife placed with its edge outward was a sign that you were looking to duel with your tablemate.

“The specifics have changed,” said Post, who doesn't sweat the knife-edge protocol, “but the underlying principles have not.

“How many of us wake up, look in the mirror, and say, ‘I'm going to be rude to five people today'?” he asked the crowd. “We don't. We're rude because we don't think. The number one thing I want you to take away from tonight is to think before you act.”

Etiquette, he emphasized, is a means to an end. “What's the most important thing you can do during a meal?” he asked.

As perhaps some pondered whether this involved a cell phone or a soup spoon, Post said, “Engage in conversation with others at the table, so that you are invited back. Etiquette allows you to do this.”

Conversing with alumni was, in fact, “my favorite part of the evening,” said Thomas Healy '08. “It's great getting them involved with our class.”