Traditional finishing schools in Switzerland may be a thing of the past, but one is holding out successfully - and has a controversial plan to expand its recruitment.
The Swiss Finishing School
That Refuses to be Finished
These are the eager students at what school principal Viviane Neri describes as "Switzerland's, and possibly Europe's, last finishing school". The formidable Madame Neri inherited the Institute Villa Pierrefeu from her mother, and over the decades has seen her school continue to thrive, while nearly all the other traditional finishing schools - once so common in Switzerland - gradually closed. "We were never the kind of school where girls practised walking downstairs with books on their heads," explains Mme Neri. "They don't just go skiing all winter and learn a bit of typing here." Instead, Mme Neri's curriculum is primarily "international protocol and etiquette". "We teach mainly etiquette, what we call hostessing - which is really the French 'art de recevoir': how to be a good hostess, table service, table decoration, floral art, home management, cooking and so on."
The women at the Villa Pierrefeu range in age from 18 to over 50, and come from many different countries, including India, the United States, Saudi Arabia, China, and Lebanon. Sonom from India describes herself as a businesswoman and adds: "I'm going to be very successful". She believes the lessons from the Villa Pierrefeu will help her achieve that success. Najate is a 30-year-old university lecturer from Lebanon. She wants to expand her existing courses in business studies to include elements of protocol and etiquette, and is hoping the Villa Pierrefeu curriculum will give her some tips. And Carol, from the United States, wants to support her husband, who has a successful business career which involves a great deal of entertaining.
Their day begins with a lecture from Mme Neri on protocol. It soon becomes clear that, for some people, seating your guests at dinner can be a worryingly complicated affair. Where should you put the second son of a duke, for example? Is he more important than a daughter? Which country's ambassador takes precedence? (And the answer to that is not, in fact, the ambassador with which your country enjoys the best relations, but the ambassador who has been longest in the post.)
Later, the girls head for a "tricky foods" lesson with etiquette teacher Rosemary McCallum. Here, again, what seems obvious is often not so. "You eat hard cheese with a knife and fork," explains Ms Mc Callum. "You must never put a piece of hard cheese on a slice of bread and make a sandwich out of it. Soft cheese you can spread, but just break off a small piece of bread - oh, and mozzarella's a soft cheese, but that you eat with a knife and fork. "It's really not all that complicated."
And once they have mastered the cheese etiquette, along with other skills such as flower arranging, and dressing for a formal dinner, the girls put it all into practice at a mock dinner in which half take the roles of men, and half of women. Each has a profile, and those playing the women, in particular, are expected to make conversation.
|The institute caters for some of the world's wealthiest families|
Some might argue that these are not things most people need to pay good money for. But of course, these girls are not most people: they come from the world's wealthiest families, and it is clear many of them believe the institute's fee of $20,000 (£12,860) to spend six weeks in one of the most beautiful regions of Switzerland, and acquire a little social polish at the same time, is a bargain.
|Etiquette and table manners are important "soft skills" – "Etiquette and table manners, these are the soft skills that are important," insists Sonom. "Everyone has a degree these days but to have that extra knowledge is helpful, I think."|
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia