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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Swiss finishing school refusing to be finished

7 July 2012 

The Swiss finishing school refusing to be finished

By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva 

Etiquette and table manners are important "soft skills"

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.

In an elegant villa high above Lake Geneva, a dozen or so young women are painstakingly learning to eat an orange - with a knife and fork.

The trick is to section the orange carefully, removing the peel so that it ends up looking like a flower, leaving behind a perfect orange ready for eating.

There should be no sound from the cutlery or the plates. And all the while, says teacher Rosemary McCallum, "you should continue making polite conversation with your neighbour".

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." (...)

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