Despite their prep school pedigrees, many Yalies appear to have been raised in a barn.
At one table, there is a girl eating with her elbows on the table. A few seats down, another student is playing with his food. One particularly feisty table of students is throwing things across the table.
“Anything goes in the dining hall,” Marisa Knox ’03 said. “Our table is a madhouse.”
When students dine in their residential college dining halls, it appears that the last thing on their minds are table manners. Instead, they are either too preoccupied with their friends or must shovel food into their mouths to be on time for a class.
But as students prepare to enter the job market and are thrown into interview situations, many feel that they will need to toss their dining hall habits aside and learn new manners.
For those students who don’t know what to do with multiple forks or what to say to a prospective employer in a social situation, there is hope. But only if that student is in Saybrook College.
Saybrook Master Mary Miller is currently offering a professional seminar on etiquette for a reduced fee of $50 to interested Saybrook students. This comes after a successful class in January that about 11 students attended. The class, taught by instructors from Connecticut Etiquette, is four hours long and takes place in Miller’s home.
“All those who came to the class [in January] said that they would undoubtedly take it again, and that it was extremely worthwhile,” Miller wrote in an e-mail to upperclass Saybrook students.
The seminar teaches students how to polish their skills and how to make the first impression to “open doors to second chances.” An elegant gourmet dinner is served at the end of the seminar.
The January seminar began with a mock cocktail party, during which students learned how to circulate the room and how to approach the hors d’oeuvres table.
Seminar instructors told students not to hover around the hors d’oeuvres table and not to take more than three hors d’oeuvres at a time. Students were instructed to “work the room” by mingling with other guests and to never linger with the same person for over ten minutes while at a party.
Next came the five-course dinner. As they ate, students were instructed in formal dining etiquette. They learned where to put their hands, how to eat bread properly, and how to handle flatware in the American and European styles.
Students also learned that napkins belong on one’s lap during dinner. If one must leave the table throughout the course of the dinner, the napkin should be placed on the chair. When dinner is finished, the napkin goes to the right of the plate.
During the dinner, students also learned how to impress possible employers during interviews. They received instruction on how to make good first impressions through the politics of introductions, how to spark conversations, and how to end an interview.
Joe Kim ’02 said the seminar has made him more confident for interview settings.
“I am going through interviews and have had to eat meals with the interviewer and have felt self-conscious,” Kim said. “Now I am more comfortable.”
Kim said he was surprised to learn that there is a proper way of doing everything.
“In a very formal setting, every little thing counts,” he said.
Students also learned the no-nos of etiquette. For example, no personal grooming at the table, no cutting spaghetti, and no alcohol.
Connecticut Etiquette instructor Shea Jezek co-taught the seminar in January. Jezek said that when drinking comes up in a social situation relating to business, one should not drink, even if the boss is drinking, because it is important to be sharp.
“Liquor dulls your senses an sometimes your tongue gets loose,” Jezek said. “There is no room for social drinking when you are making a career move.”
Jezek said she was impressed that Yale students knew the basics of etiquette coming into the class and that they also wanted to go beyond the basics for in-depth information.
“There are lots of questions students have and they don’t really have anyone to go to,” Jezek said. “For example, how do you eat, drink, and shake hands while looking confident?”
Jezek said that in interviews, students are often to busy concentrating about their manners to focus on nailing the interview. She said the course in designed to make students feel confident and comfortable.
“The word that comes to mind when I think of our course is that it empowers,” Jezek said. “Etiquette is doing the right thing at the right time.”
Male students are to appear at the seminar in ties and jackets, and the female students are told to wear dresses. The January seminar was geared toward seniors and juniors. Miller said she wants the second seminar, scheduled for March, to be an all-sophomore event.
“Coming from a college situation, it is easy to dismiss etiquette, but in the real world, things are different,” Jezek said. “By taking the course, you are setting yourself up to stand out a little bit brighter than everyone else.”