Minding My P's & Q's
I've always considered myself as having at least adequate table manners. I put my napkin on my lap and chew my food with my mouth closed. I know which fork is used for what and I know that slurping soup is a no-no.
But after sharing a sumptuous six-course meal with the "Queen of Courtesy," Marjabelle Young Stewart, and more than 300 fellow students at the Northwestern Alumni Association's third annual Etiquette Banquet, I soon discovered that there really was a lot I didn't know.
And while I could easily handle the delicious miso-marinated halibut with leek chifonade as well as the vegetable consommé, there were still a few etiquette enigmas that left me wishing that I had brought along Stewart's book, Commonsense Etiquette (St. Martin's Press, 1999).
For instance, what's the difference between a salad fork and a fish fork? (The fish fork has slightly broader tines.) And what's the proper way to go about eating caviar? (Take a small portion, spread it on the toast and eat it in several bites.) Also, can you eat that parsley on your plate? (Of course, if you so desire.)
And while I don't expect myself to be handling a fish fork or feasting on imported caviar on a daily basis anytime soon, some of Stewart's more practical advice was certainly well taken by a 20-year-old not far from entering the business world. Tips like how to respond to a formal invitation, how to split the bill at a business luncheon and how much to tip the maitre d' were especially relevant.
"When a prospective employer takes you out to lunch or dinner," Stewart said, "it's not to entertain you but to see how you dine. Your manners and how you respond to certain social situations are a very important part of your professional image."
The students who attended seemed to agree. "So much of the job interview experience revolves around making that perfect first impression," said Kristin Maciorowski, a junior in the Medill School of Journalism. "Everything from what you wear, to how you act, to your manners are just as important sometimes as your grades and your résumé."
Stewart, who has conducted seminars on business and dining etiquette for several Fortune 500 companies, believes that events like the NAA Etiquette Banquet held all three years at Evanston's Omni-Orrington Hotel are important because they help young people develop poise and good manners. Those qualities are proven to help people win jobs and promotions.
Attendee Shawn Glanville (WCAS88), an NAA Executive Board member, concurred. The banquet, a part of the NAA's Senior Series workshops to prepare juniors and seniors for postgraduation life, "is invaluable simply because it takes students out of the normal college environment that they are so used to," he said. "And it gets them in a mode of thinking what life is going to be like in the 'real world.'"
Stewart, who lives in Kewanee, Ill., has regularly dined at the White House and taught children's etiquette classes to Tricia and Julie Nixon. She travels to more than 100 colleges and universities every year. Although the advent of e-mail and other informal forms of communication have caused some to question the future of proper decorum, the reigning manners maven has no worries.
"Young people today are as polite as ever," Stewart said with a glowing smile. "They understand the value of style and sophistication."
Ed Fanselow (J02)