Hold on to your salad fork, the Britaney Spears generation is going to charm school.
With teens emulating crass pop icons and adults reveling in casual Fridays, it might seem like a creaceless age. But etiquette is making a timely comeback as a modern charm schools set up shop across the Country.
Parents are sending their short-skirted daughters and rambunctious Little Leaguers to boost confidence, improve table manners and counter sloppy cultural influences.
Adults are getting in on the act, too. Driven by a competitive and global economy, local aerospace engineers, car salesmen and urologists are shelling out big bucks to brush up on social skills. Etiquette schools have opened in Mesa, Gilbert and Tucson in the past year. Gilbert Parks and Recreation started offering a manners class this summer, and old standbys in Scottsdale and Chandler say business is booming like never before.
Marisa Bates, 14, of Chandler, said her grandmother always wanted to send her to an expensive finishing school. Instead, Marisa took 14 classes for $595 this summer at Sincerely, Sandra Image Development and Modeling School, which has been teaching etiquette in Chandler for 22 years.
"My parents are excited because they feel I'm going to be fixed," she said after crafting a thoughtful albeit imaginary "thank you" letter. "They say I have bad manners." Marisa said she actually has enjoyed learning to make new friends and "where to put the knife and fork."
Dorthea Johnson, founding direcotr of the Protocol School of Washington in Maine, said "I've never seen anythinglike it, and I've been in this business for 40 years." "The Hunger for this information is incredible," added Johnson, actress Liv Tyler's maternal grandmother.
Johnson opened the school in Washington, D.C., in 1988 to train etiquette teachers and government officials. More than 1,400 of her graduates are now teaching manners in 32 countries. Former student Carrie Click, 28, opened Click on...Etiquette in Tucson last year.
After years of ignoring common courtesy, the "McManners generation" is waking up, Johnson said. "I think people got fed up with being treated shabbily and the in-your-face, winner-take-all attitude of the '80s and '90s." she said. "The global economy has made us see the attention paid to style and form in other countries." Johnson said parents from here to Japan are feeling the need to counter the influence of impolite celebrity role models, although her own famous granddaugher "to this day calls and thanks me for teaching her how to shake hands and make eye contact when she introduces herself."
Susan Field of Mesa said she sent her 15-year-old daughter Cara, to Sincerely, Sandra to boost self-esteem and deter the dar black eyeliner and skimpy clothing. Cara happily attended because she thought it would help her modeling aspirations. Both got what they wanted. "If I told her something wasn't appropriate or didn't look good, she'd pooh-pooh me and say, 'I'm living in today, Mom'" said Susan, 51. "After coming out of the class, she's doing her makeup properly and the modesty thing is improving."
Sometimes it takes a stranger and a roomful of peers to nudge kids in the righ direction, said Sandra Saoud, 46, owner of Sincerely, Sandra. In addition to the teenage girls, she works with groups of boys such as little league teams, does one-on-one wardrobe consulting for adults and trains America West flight attendants in Phoenix.
With family dinners becoming a thing of the past, many hard-working parents haven't taken time to teach their children the basics, said Michele Maussion Wilson, owner of Manners by Michele in Scottsdale for nine years. And many parents don't know traditional rules themselves. Realizing this, they turn to etiquette school.
It's not just wealthy people who are interested in raising well-groomed, polite childre, added Wilson, who has taken her lessons to inner-city classrooms. There was so much demand for Gilbert's $15 community etiquette classes this summer that the city had to start a waiting list and will offer them again in the fall. There are different schools for different tastes. Wilson, a Paris native, teaches European table manners in her home and at swanky restaurants.
Click, in Tucson, focuses on using etiquette to get ahead in the workplace.
And Heila and Clifford Gibb, natives of South Africa, takes a decidedly traditional approach: Their students balance books on their heads. The couple teach Gilbert's community class and opened the Academy of Etiquette in Mesa and Gilbert last year. "A young man comes in with hip-hop trousers, and all the sudden he's got something on his head," said Heila Gibb, 63. "He immediately straightens up. We explain why posture is important and why a gentleman walks on a certain side of a lady."
Morgan Rodgers, 13, of Gilbert, is the first to admit she didn't want to take etiquette class at Sincerely, Sandra, or anywhere. But, she said, charm is catching. "My mom made me," she said. "I didn't want to take it at first. Istill wasn't sure after the first day. But now, it's really fun to be here."