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Social Graces

A Lesson from Beijing’s Miss Manners by Cat Nelson


ind your manners,” our mothers often chided. You might have learned then, but now, it’s easy enough to feel like a child again, thrust into a globalized world and plopped down clueless into the midst of another culture. Sara Jane Ho has been tackling that beast with her newly founded Institute Sarita, a high-end finishing school for international etiquette. The etiquette expert explains the importance of introductions and how to avoid rude guests. If you were to rate etiquette faux pas, what would rank number one? Introductions – for both Chinese and Westerners. If you are the common link standing between two people who do not know each other, then it is your responsibility to introduce them – whether or not you are the host! And when you introduce, don’t simply state names. I always give a meaningful introduction that includes where the person is from, what brought them to Beijing, and how I met them. Also, I quickly think of things in common such as “John just returned from a trip to France – Mary studied abroad in France,” so that they can easily strike up a conversation on their own!

school to business school. These days we don’t need to have chaperones on dates. Is there a line of compromise and understanding between cultures regarding rules of etiquette and manners? Absolutely. Learning and practicing international etiquette is a statement of your openness and awareness of the fact that people you are with may see the world differently. How do you feel when a man holds open a door for you? What if he doesn’t? I am charmed! If he is a real gentleman he should hold open the door for whomever is following behind him, not just me. If he doesn’t, I take notice too. I never say anything though. I only offer my thoughts on etiquette when asked – nothing is more annoying than a preacher. Improve your manners at Sara’s Dinner at TRB, Ms. Ho’s new monthly series of social dinners at Temple Restaurant Beijing beginning Dec 21.

photo: courtesy of sara jane ho

What is the rudest guest you’ve had to deal with? I haven’t had any. I put a lot of thought into which guests to invite because I try to create the right mix that will determine the chemistry of the evening. I never invite anybody rude or affected or obnoxious or loud to my home or dinner. These sorts of people vex the spirit. Etiquette essentially reinforces and endorses conventional social norms. What have been the biggest, recent shifts in what is considered “proper etiquette”? Etiquette is a revisionist business. People think that etiquette is strict and unforgiving, taught by an old-fashioned, old lady with her hair in a bun. This is why I am trying to redefine etiquette because it is actually fresh and dynamic and situation-specific. I think the biggest shift in what is considered “proper etiquette” has been regarding the role of women, as they move from the home to the workplace, from finishing


December 2013

the Beijinger December 2013  

Party People. Learn to Host With the Most

the Beijinger December 2013  

Party People. Learn to Host With the Most