What I Learned in Finishing School
Apparently I’m a monster
I am really bad at eating salads. Don’t think I’m fishing for compliments when I tell you this. Whenever I eat one it’s just lettuce all over the place. On you and me and my keyboard. The situation got so bad that finally, last month, I decided to remedy it and learn to eat a salad with grace.
I took an Adult Finishing School class at The Plaza Hotel. Etiquette, I know, can seem like an antiquated concept, but I am eternally fascinated by it. I love rules, whether I follow them or not (I am so wild), because just knowing them allows you to evaluate nuanced social interactions. I also think it’s important to have a technical understanding of how to eat frisée without looking like a drunk horse, the best way to announce your restroom intentions and the most formal way to eat soup.
No worries if you don’t know this, but I already have an etiquette expert in my life named Myka Meier. She’s the founder of Beaumont Etiquette and can teach you how to be the Duchess of Cambridge if you needed to be. She once taught me how to adopt the air of Lady Mary but once the show got rid of Matthew — RIP — I gave up/forgot. Myka’s now in cahoots with The Plaza Hotel where she leads a Saturday Intensive Finishing Program (there’s a full weekend one, too, or you could take classes online). I said to Myka, “Help me. I’ve become a monster again.”
Step 1 was straight out of a movie-makeover montage at the Warren-Tricomi salon, where Edward Tricomi gave me the actual best haircut of my entire life in exactly 15 minutes, followed by a Texas blowout — those were my instructions — and a fresh face of makeup. This was me before.
This was me after.
The hair and makeup (I could have done my nails there, too, but I needed my hands free to text all of my boyfriends) were part of the program’s “Finishing Touch” package. If you’re going to learn how to properly eat a soft-boiled egg, you might as well go the full monty, I always say. But if you don’t want to, whatever: You leave with a goody bag of Urban Decay products because The Duchess of Cambridge wore the Naked eyeshadow palette for her wedding day. Give me a better reason.
Next came the lessons. We practiced how to not eat like a dragon and I learned that you can pick up tea sandwiches with your hands. We practiced how to sit up straight but not against the back of a chair (pretend a baseball is behind you — the way I am doing it in the feature image up top is wrong) while keeping your ankles crossed and heels facing the ground so that you can’t see dirty shoe bottoms. We went over how to spit out gross food without making it weird (discreetly into your napkin, which should be folded with the crease towards you so that you can lift the outer-facing corner and use the inside to dab around your mouth).
We went over dinnerware placement:
And how to rest your cutlery while pausing/when finished.
We practiced drinking tea — NO PINKY OUT, but I think you knew that — see finger placement.
^ Note that the hand positing here is different from drinking coffee. (You can hook your forefinger around the cup’s elbow if it’s coffee and hold it that way.)
My favorite thing we practiced — along with all of the eating, walking, sitting, greeting, small-talking, networking, ONLINE DATING, YES, THAT IS A PART OF THE PROGRAM — WHOLE OTHER ARTICLE, and not-being-awkward-ing — was how to drink champagne. Turns out the best way is not to pretend it’s Gatorade, but rather to hold the glass from the very bottom of the flute and tilt upward. It takes a lot of practice so you get to drink a lot.
Myka explained to me that so much of etiquette is about making your guests, dining partners, restaurant staff, colleagues, dates or whomever feel more comfortable. That’s why you don’t want to slurp, make your plate messy or announce that you have to pee (just ghost from the table, get up and go). I like that mentality. Rather than using these rules to feel stuck up, snobby or stuffy, they allow you to feel comfortable in potentially uncomfortable situations — and they allow you to make others feel welcome.
Before this class, I worried about accidentally finding myself in the presence of royalty. (One can never be too prepared.) I can name at least a hundred movies (The Prince and Me, Kate & Leopold, What a Girl Wants, The Princess Diaries 2 — plus a short plot line in Gossip Girl ) where the protagonist had NO IDEA she was meeting a prince or lord.
I now feel better about this possibility. I know that if I ran into the queen, I could eat lettuce in a way that would knock her socks off. I’ve also swapped out salad for triple-decker tea sandwiches at lunch, so there’s that, too.
Learn more about The Plaza Finishing Program here. Follow Myka Meier of Beaumont Etiquette on Twitter and Instagram. Follow The Plaza Hotel @ThePlazaHotel and Warren Tricomi Salon @WarrenTricomi on Instagram. Photos by Krista Anna Lewis, illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.