Friday, October 21, 2005

NEW RULES - For today’s woman


For today’s woman, etiquette’s not just about proper speech and table manners

IS it time for all well-mannered modern women to throw Emily Post out of the window? Or, at least, relegate her definitive book on etiquette to the archives? Because today, what constitutes good manners is very different from what once was. While Post’s 1922 tome speaks of debutants, chaperones and dances; today’s woman needs to know how to behave at the office party and not to yell on her cell phone.

This has prompted the Good Housekeeping Institute to publish a ‘noughtiquette’ guide on modern manners for women. Don’t get drunk at parties, never show a thong above your waistband or yell loudly in public, they advise. Peeking at your partner’s cell phone messages or stripping in gym changing rooms is also bad manners today, says the book.

So just how necessary is etiquette today? “It’s essential,” says etiquette consultant Saloni Duggal, “Old is gold when it comes to good manners.” An ex-student recently told her that the finer points of table etiquette came to her rescue during a breakfast job interview. “She felt so much more confident knowing which cutlery and glassware to use.” Another student who had to meet Bill Clinton during a US project was first given an official intensive oneweek etiquette course. “She said she was told how to introduce herself, how to shake hands, how to enter and leave the room. You are expected to know all this. It prevents chaos and adds confidence.”

Other essentials: how to be a good host, how to balance work stress with your personal life. With the increase in broken marriages, intricacies of dealing with exes and their respective families is another must. Yet, much needs to be added. “Business etiquette has changed with women entering the corporate world,” she points out, “Public speaking is more casual, colour psychology and body language is studied to make good impressions.”

Etiquette is not given adequate importance in India, adds Saloni, though educational institutions are now adding soft skills to their curriculum. “Learning how to handle yourself is as important as anything else. Perhaps what needs to be added is cultural sensitivity,” Saloni feels. “With the constant inflow of people, awareness of one another’s cultures is important.”

So true, agrees jewellery expert and modern woman Deepti Sudhindra. “What’s outlandish is defined differently by different people.” A woman dancing alone is no longer regarded as shocking, but gross misbehaviour still raises eyebrows everywhere. “Women today are ready to take chances, and so they are willing to cross boundaries. Yet, it’s important to define those boundaries. Or else we’d all be streaking on the road! On one hand, you need to shake up the system, on the other, keep within boundaries to avoid shocking for the sake of doing so.”

So etiquette is not about at which point a woman should cross her legs, she adds. “It’s more about knowing where your limits should start and end,” says Deepti.

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