To get ahead, watch brows and britches

Etiquette guide for staff covers personal grooming, dress and fine dining, writes Melanie Newman

November 6, 2008

Consider whether your eyebrows are "a distraction", make sure your underwear is "unobtrusive" and never talk about sex, politics or religion at dinner.

These are among the tips being given to postgraduate students joining the staff of Leeds Metropolitan University as trainee managers.

Although the Confederation of British Industry has complained that new graduates often lack basic workplace skills, some academics have questioned whether Leeds Met Manners - an etiquette and style guide written by Patricia Lee, the wife of the vice-chancellor, Simon Lee - is the answer.

In a section entitled "Your personal brand", the guide advises men that "a white or blue shirt with an interesting tie can really lift your look", while "a crumpled beige shirt and stained tie will be depressing for everyone".

For the "ladies", the guide suggests that a personal shopper will provide sartorial advice - and "not only on the right size underwear". Women are warned against looking "crumpled", "frumpy", "tarty" or "lazy".

In a section on "fine dining", the guide notes that it is "the height of vulgarity" to tuck your napkin in to your shirt and that if dropped the napkin should be retrieved "unless the house has a butler or servants".

Trainees are warned to avoid "controversial subjects" while dining. "Dinner is meant to be enjoyed, not to be a forum for debate," the guide says. Sex, politics and religion should not be discussed.

The "strict rules" governing seating plans are also explained: although the hostess governs the table, it is the host who sits at its head, with the wives sitting outwards from him in order of the "importance" of their husbands.

One academic who asked not to be named described the guide as "a broth of self-important snobbery that most us thought had been laughed out of existence in the 1960s".


On style:

- Ladies should wear fewer than ten items of jewellery including both earrings;

- Think about getting a nice watch for your next birthday;

- Incorporate regular haircuts into your diary;

- Give up smoking;

- Make sure underwear fits and is unobtrusive;

Making conversation:

- Some topics are suitable for pre-dinner drinks, such as the weather ("It's a lovely day today, isn't it?") and nature ("The campus looks wonderful, doesn't it?");

- Later on, more serious subjects such as sport, family and holidays may be broached, but it is "safer to avoid gossip and politics" and complaints;

- Food is, however, recommended as a safe topic. The suggested way in is: "I had a lovely Chinese meal last night - do you like Chinese food?"

On attitude:

- "Make a positive choice every morning - be in a bad mood and ruin your day; be in a good mood and make the day of everyone around you".

On dining:

- Never touch glasses with other guests when toasting;

- To tap your glass with a utensil is "the height of rudeness" - it is "sufficient to clear your throat";

- Never use a toothpick at the table or blow your nose - especially not on the napkin;

- Do not salt your meal before you have tasted it as "it is an insult to your hostess".

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