These days, etiquette training can feel like a vestige of another era, conjuring a mental reel of genteel young ladies balancing books on their heads and learning to identify fish forks. But many might be surprised (and gratified) to learn that old-fashioned social graces are making a comeback, reimagined for the thoroughly modern millennial.
As an admittedly rough-around-the-edges young person myself, I thought I might benefit from a little polishing. That's why I reached out to Myka Meier and her staff at — a consultancy and manners tutelage that's been selling out since Meier, its founder, launched in the U.S. in 2014.
It’s an interesting time for a revival of etiquette training. American political leaders have largely abandoned decorum while their constituents delight in a wedding engagement to the same monarchy we once overthrew (but, really, congrats, !) Millennials also (allegedly) have a reputation for killing off everything older generations hold dear.
So you’d think manners would be on their way out, no?
The answer: not quite.
About 85% of Meier’s clients are millennials with an almost 50-50 breakdown of those identifying as male or female. She credits the generation’s competitiveness.
So, enter me, a twenty-something who hopes to go from prat to prim over the course of a two-hour lunch, via Meier's social and dining course.
When I meet Meier at , where Beaumont Etiquette runs a finishing program, she’s wearing a white pussy-bow blouse billowing with frills and ruffles. On anyone else, the top might seem fussy, but Meier looks charming and confident.
Meier isn’t your grandmother’s etiquette teacher. She may have trained a client to , but she’s also danced with Prince Harry on a nightclub floor. She wasn’t born part of the one percent. Rather, she grew up in a middle-class American household and began taking etiquette courses around the world after working abroad in communications, where she met her mentor — a former Kensington Palace employee.
After some chit-chat, she gets to the crux of the matter: “Have you ever taken any sort of etiquette class before?”
I’m the product of a small coal region hometown and public education. I was a feral, poor-postured child and, while often threatened with finishing school, my father was not an aristocrat, but a former truck driver.
I had, however, watched The Princess Diaries many times.
Unlike Anne Hathaway's training, nobody at The Plaza swoops in with an Hermès scarf to bind me to my chair. A portly, be-suited waiter instead takes our afternoon tea order with, of course, those little crust-less cucumber sandwiches. Then, Meier and I set off racing.
“I first just want to teach you how to hold a knife and fork,” Meier says.
Great news: my current cutlery technique resembles spearfishing. Using silverware is one of the biggest struggles of Beaumont's clients, alongside other table errors, like wolfing down food.
To help you folks at home, here's a few tips to get us all started:
- Your pinkie doesn’t go out when you hold a cup of tea. Instead, pinch your thumb and index finger within the loop, then support the handle with your middle finger.
- Stir drinks 12-to-6. No creating whirlpools with your spoon.
- Meals aren’t sprints. “You take four bites maximum [in a row], and then you break.”
- Wrap your index, thumb and middle finger around the stem of a wineglass. The lower you go, the more sophisticated the hold.
But back to the lesson.
Per Meier’s instruction, I place the handles on my index fingers, and “wrap and twist” my fingers onto the handles. I’m to remember there are four letters in fork and left, five letters in knife and right.
“Elbows in, and elbows stay in,” Meier instructs me, the girl who looks like a bird flapping its wings across the table.
I already feel like Edward Scissorhands, but, for perspective, Meier tells me Meghan Markle must learn the British way of eating: stacking and balancing food on the top of her fork, instead of stabbing it like her fellow Americans.
I wonder briefly who in my life will appreciate my new dining skills. My colleagues when I eat my sad desk salad? The bodega guy who gives me my chicken sandwich? At this point, I’m still thinking manners are like fine pieces of jewelry — you must create occasions to show them off.
No Slouching Allowed
After dining, it’s on to posture training.
“Imagine about an egg’s width from your tailbone to the back of the chair,” Meier says. I’m also to position myself about two hands away from the table, and I make a bridge out of my hands for reference and look up at her for affirmation (not unlike a child).
“You just want to move in a little bit. Then, you never want to lean back into your chair.”
I begin to grumble, and Meier tells me people’s back muscles sometimes hurt after her training, so I try to pretend I’m at Pure Barre.
We move onto sitting positions, and I'm to imagine I have a little rubber band around my knees and ankles.
Acceptable sitting positions for refined folk include the “Cambridge Cross," a term coined by Meier and a position favored by the . To mimic, cross your legs at the ankles with your heels planted on the floor. If you’re afraid of falling out of your chair like Princess Mia, this is a safe position for you.
There’s also the “Duchess Slant." With knees and ankles together and heels on the floor, slant your calves to create a zig-zag shape with your legs to protect your modesty. My idols growing up were Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, so modesty protection is all very new to me.
Our food arrives on a tiered tray with scones on the bottom, sandwiches in the middle, and pastries at the top. You only cut bread if it is served on your plate with your food — like toast with eggs — so Meier and I start with the scones and break bread together.
Etiquette Is About Respect
As she segues into , I want to tell her I already have a great strategy for not embarrassing myself at such events (it’s called not going), but I pull out a different downer question instead:
“If you are at a holiday party and someone makes an untoward sexual advance, or if someone is being rude in that manner, what is a polite way to remove yourself from that situation?”
We are all creatures of assumptions, and I expect Meier to balk or pass at the heavy question I just placed beside the fine china. As women, we’re often taught to not talk about such things, and I might not know how to hold a fork, but I know sexual assault isn’t what you discuss at afternoon tea.
Instead, Meier shows me why people pay hundreds of dollars for her courses, why TV shows and corporate companies fly her internationally for talks, and why etiquette is simply about respect.
“I wouldn’t just ignore it and walk away, which is what I think people used to do. I would let them know that the advance was not welcome,” Meier says. “I’m a bit of a feminist in that way of being vocal and not accepting it. [A generation] usually follows the one before it, so that’s why it’s really important to stop the cycle.”
To think etiquette and feminism can’t coexist is to cling to an outdated understanding of manners, and I’m suddenly ready to sign up for the multitudes of other courses Beaumont offers.
“People always say, ‘isn’t it ladies first?’ But ‘ladies first’ is one of the worst things you can say now with modern etiquette,” per Meier. Just say ‘Please, after you” if you are opening a door for someone who is a lady. She explains, “you don’t point out her gender because it’s just not relevant anymore.”
Searching gor Balance
At this point, Anne Chertoff, COO of The Plaza Finishing Program, finds us still on the scone course after 45 minutes of nonstop talking. Somewhat a foil to Meier, Chertoff knows the etiquette but doesn’t practice it.
“I’m just a very comfortable person,” she says, leaning back into her chair. If not for work, “I would be in yoga pants with emojis right now and my Mickey Mouse sweatshirt.”
She says that, but still fixes my silverware when I deposit it incorrectly on the table to head to my final lesson of the day: the curtsy. A proper English one like Markle will learn — not the “Texas Dip” you’d recognize from Disney movies.
The curtsy is a series of three: the foot goes back and the head lowers in three counts, you bend at the knee in three counts, then you come back to standing straight in three counts.
The lower you go doesn’t mean the higher the level of respect. It all sounds simple, but I wobble in my ankle booties and fall out of it. I let out a four-letter curse word as I do so, but Chertoff and Meier politely (of course) pretend not to notice.
After two hours with Meier, I’m ready to embrace proper etiquette and modern social graces. But the curtsy — I’ll leave that to the royals.
For a full list of Beaumont Etiquette's course, visit .