I’ve always been fascinated by the world of etiquette. How did you become so well versed on the subject, and what inspired you to start the Emma Dupont School of Etiquette?
I entered the corporate world in the finance sector thirty years ago and was fortunate to have a great run. I started at the end of the last recession in 1990 and worked for nineteen years leading up to the credit crunch. Over time, I became aware that many of my international clients were facing cultural differences after relocating to the UK, which sparked my interest in the subject. A few years after I got married, I had the opportunity to leave the corporate world and retrain to do something different, and so I took it!
Many of my peers were skeptical when I told them about my new venture, with some questioning why I would want to enter the etiquette industry. This was due to their perception of it; etiquette is one of those words that, unfortunately, in the UK, many tend to associate with outdated finishing schools and class systems, but that isn’t the case. Etiquette is about understanding the codes of conduct, and these differ in every country and culture. Understanding these rules gives us confidence and ensures that we don’t unintentionally offend anyone or commit a faux pas.
After much research, I discovered that whilst there were a few excellent etiquette schools in the UK, there was room in the market for more relevant and practical advice. I certainly don’t come from blue-blooded stock or aristocracy; I’m just a hard-working lady, experiencing the same challenges as everyone else.
To begin my journey, I immersed myself in as many books as possible, such as The Debrett’s Handbook. At the same time, I started designing, building, and writing the website, Etiquette and Manners for the Contemporary Woman. It was read world-wide by ladies of different cultures and religions, and many opportunities arose from that.
I then progressed to be a full-time etiquette coach, and I was fortunate enough to be taught by one of the best etiquette schools in the UK. I worked on a consultancy basis for them for over three years, so I learned from the best and became certified by the best. The natural progression was then to launch The Emma Dupont School of Etiquette.
Is there a universal, number one rule in etiquette? If someone were to stop reading this interview here, what would you want them to remember the most?
The most important thing to remember is that etiquette is simply the set of rules surrounding any business or social interaction. Knowing the rules gives us the confidence to walk into any of these situations with ease. The by-product of this is that we become less absorbed with our insecurities and the fear that we’re getting something wrong, and this confidence empowers us to reach out to other people, ensuring they’re okay as well. And that is the essence of good manners.
Etiquette should never be used to look down on other people or highlight others’ errors, which is why you will never see me commenting on news stories as, unfortunately, they tend to focus on people’s mistakes, which completely goes against my proposition. My passion is building ladies up, not tearing them down publicly!
Has etiquette evolved over time?
Yes, it has, and it must.
One hundred years ago or so, ladies didn’t shake hands because the point of this greeting was to show that one was unarmed. As the gentlemen carried the swords or guns, they were the ones who shook hands; ladies were never armed, and we would simply nod! Now, of course, we too shake hands.
As an industry, we’re always keeping a close eye on what’s happening in society. The COVID-19 pandemic is a classic example; we’re learning from each other, and we’re learning what different cultures are doing; there are no hard and fast rules at the moment because it’s all so new.
If etiquette is not moving with the times, people will ignore it and say it’s outdated and antiquated. So, the rules must change.
What are some of the common misconceptions about etiquette?
The biggest misconception is that the rules are just for ‘posh’ events (or ‘fancy’ as you say in the USA!).
Some also believe the rules are pompous, and that they don’t matter anymore. Well, the rules don’t matter until you break them and realise when it’s too late. You have just unintentionally embarrassed yourself or perhaps, worse still, embarrassed someone else.
Often, it takes this type of experience for someone to realise, “Ah, that’s why knowing the rules matters”!
I believe that prevention is better than cure; we often don’t know what we don’t know!
Are there any traditional rules in etiquette that you disagree with?
The greeting in the UK of, “How do you do?” is outdated. Other professionals in the industry may disagree with me. Still, in my experience, it is rarely used nowadays by the younger generation (even those of upper-classes), and most people don’t even know how to respond correctly.
It’s a rhetorical question, and the response is actually just, “How do you do?” but what happens typically it is perceived as, “How are you?” and one receives a response of, “I’m well, thanks!”.
It is felt within the industry that “It’s a pleasure to meet you” is insincere as one doesn’t yet know the person, and therefore one cannot say if it is. However, my feeling is that this phrase is a pleasantry and, “How do you do?” doesn’t really make grammatical sense.
When travel picks back up, what are three etiquette tips that people should know when visiting the UK?
1. “The Polite Ten Minutes;” Never turn up early to someone’s house. You should always arrive ten minutes after the stated arrival time, but not more than fifteen minutes.
2. “The Art of Good Conversation;” Become familiar with the basics of small talk. The British are very keen on small talk, but we tend to‘beat around the bush’. If you want to build friendships and good relationships with work colleagues, then you should learn the basics of good British chit-chat. It’s one of most underestimated skills in my opinion.
3. Never excuse yourself from the dining table when other people are still eating. Always wait for them to finish before excusing yourself to the lavatory or to make a call.
Also… “Queue Nicely;” No pushing people out of the way to jump the queue please, it’s just not British, Kaitlin!
Is COVID changing etiquette in our daily lives?
People are well within their rights to state if someone is encroaching on their personal space. With the new COVID rules, I think everyone is more confident to say, “Excuse me, please can you give me a little more space, I am practicing social distancing.” All very politely of course, we are British!
I don’t think many of us were aware of our innate need for human touch before the pandemic. It’s getting more comfortable, but it’s not really natural for us. There’s a business desire to shake hands, and elbow bumping hasn’t gained momentum in the UK. People are also hugging their loved ones and close friends, perhaps not at the beginning of a social gathering, but after a few drinks, they are! So, I don’t think any of these changes will be permanent, but time will tell.
To address event etiquette and the coronavirus… It’s evident that people have different thresholds for activities they’re comfortable engaging in. What is the proper etiquette for guests that are currently navigating how to respond when invited to micro events and weddings, especially for those that want to ask the host for more information to feel comfortable attending?
It’s perfectly acceptable and good manners to seek clarification from the host if there are areas that you are unsure about.
Always use the stated method of RSVP as the route for making contact. Quite often, RSVPs are managed by an event planner and they will have a system in place.
What is the etiquette when attending a wedding in today’s climate?
To attend a wedding in the current climate would be quite a profound and moving experience. Weddings are a heightened state of emotion, but with the pandemic, I’m sure it would magnify things even more.
Do take into account there are, ordinarily, older people in attendance, such as grandparents. Do adhere to all the guidelines, because the last thing you want to do is pass on the virus to someone vulnerable.
It’s only right to acknowledge what everyone’s been through during chit-chat, but one should be mindful of getting sucked into a vortex of depressing conversation. My advice is to strive to balance sensitivity with being as light-hearted as possible, given that you’re attending the event for a celebration.
Also, don’t be critical in any way of the hosts, other guests, staff, the venue, or anything that isn’t ‘perfect’; everyone is doing their best at the moment.
If you were to leave us with one piece of advice, what would it be?
Anyone who is on the self-development journey should always bear in mind that authenticity is vital. I have heard people say that they wouldn’t attend an etiquette course because they don’t want to change who they are. But people can’t be changed; they can only be enhanced! It’s not my objective to change people at The Emma Dupont School of Etiquette but raise someone’s natural personality and charm!
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