South Africans lack table manners and posture.

The country’s first School of Etiquette situated in one of Johannesburg’s rich northern suburbs is more evidence of how much its public culture has slid to the right.

Image Credit: School of Etiquette Website.

South Africa TV will soon debut “Real Housewives of Johannesburg.” If that’s not enough, in other news, the country’s first School of Etiquette is now open in one of Johannesburg’s rich northern suburbs.

The owner of the Etiquette School, Courtney Carey, has been doing the media rounds. Much of the coverage, is not surprisingly, soft pedal stuff. In one instance, the American state broadcaster Voice of America asked her about her vision on the strained social and economic relations in South Africa.

In the interview, Carey suggested the true type of capital that stands in the way of the country’s mission to improve social and economic relations is cultural. What South Africans need to all get along, we learn, are manners. And they’re for sale at her school.

Carey studied at the University of Cape Town but also lists “Washington’s Protocol School and the New York School of Etiquette” as part of her education.

Apart from the general manager of her guesthouse, who is a black Zimbabwean, her team is all white; they are her parents. From her website it’s pretty clear she targeting black South Africans (and their employers).

Etiquette, which Carey defines as “the fine art of getting along with people,” is easily misunderstood as being all about manners. Yet that would be superficial. Instead, underpinning the quality and strength of social relations, Courtney explains, it’s about the right kind of behavior and social skills to suit the situation that you are in.

So, for those South Africans who seek to build better relationships, get promotions, improve their food-intake and expand their entrepreneurial revenue, we’ve distilled the pedagogical foundational of the curriculum, as it was revealed in the interview and on her website, and turned them into five lessons. The quotation marks indicate Courtney’s quotes, the illustrating examples are our own.

First, improve the behavioral nuances of your business persona and ensure you come off as “comfortable and confident in any environment”. This means that you got to invest some serious time in learning “how to deliver a good toast”, as a bad one can be devastating for your social upward mobility.

Second, are you one of those people who keeps her phone close-by, because you don’t want to miss out on a job or something else you think is urgent? You got it all wrong. Eish, if only you know how many South Africans are “losing businesses and friends for making careless use of their cell phones.” Put it away people. Just be polite, for once.

Concerned about food? Focus on your table manners instead. So stop thinking about ‘what’ you plan to eat and be more mindful of ‘how’ you will eat it. Courtney uses soup spilling as an example of the type of ‘irritating’ table manners, that structurally interfere with successful relationship building. The thing with the soup is that, if you keep it too far away from you, you’ll inevitably spill (..) your chances. If you think that’s elitist, you may want to think twice. According to Courtney, “it’s not about snobby eating…we teach people how to dine easier, cleaner and safer”.

Fourth, for those South African women who seek to build better relationships and independent businesses, it is absolutely vital to distance themselves from the deceptive liberalism of the Constitution (which activist groups have put quite some time and effort in). No, girls. Forget about challenging rigid and hetero-normative gender-roles. You’ve got to “let men be chivalrous” and answer his ‘gentleman’ acts with gratitude if you intend to move forward. “A lot of women now believe that because we are emancipated and we can be independent and run our own businesses and lives, that we don’t need a man to open the door for us or carry a box for us or stand back for us when we walk through a door”, Courtney laments. To all those South African women, who are trapped in the economic comfort of their financial independence and safety of their normative sexuality, she sends a strong message that breathes idealism and passion: “ be better mannered to men… and be more feminine”.

Lastly, two key words that should be mainstreamed through the other ones: genuineness and exclusivity. Nothing of the above will work out if you’re not really feeling it and just put up a show. Faking chivalry, etiquette and interest in, for example, a potential client may be tempting (if you’re hungry) but you’re probably better off if you leave the client to a competitor instead. This is because you can only succeed in being attentive to people and making them feel important if “you genuinely believe they’re important”. A practical example would be a business deal that may pay your rent and school fees for two seasons, but that would force you to work with someone who, according to your gut, is not all that important. Don’t bother; it’s not going to work out.

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