It was with some trepidation that I introduced Francesca, my nine-year-old daughter, to Kristine Stewart, director of the Hong Kong Institute of Etiquette, for her 2½-hour dining lesson at Chez Patrick restaurant in Wan Chai. This was not because I doubt her ability to behave well but because she is an extremely fussy eater, consistently eschewing all vegetables, "creamy" food, or strong flavours. Francesca's refusal to experiment has made dining at a variety of restaurants and experimenting with cuisines difficult.
My fears, however, soon proved unfounded. Stewart, a graduate of Institut Villa Pierrefeu in Switzerland, started the school in 2009 and epitomises poise and elegance. Coupled with a no-nonsense approach and a dose of humour, the lesson quickly developed an "in-it-together" feel. Stewart is quick to praise and gentle in her guidance, and encouraged Francesca to aspire to good etiquette as a way of interacting with others effectively and making them feel at ease.
The lesson began with a short video explaining the origin of the term "etiquette" (French for "little signs", introduced by Louis IV as a means of controlling unruly guests) and covered a wide range of topics including formal introductions and sitting correctly at the table. Stewart's child-friendly tips were invaluable: when Francesca admitted to sometimes resting her elbows on the dining table, Stewart suggested she pretend she has a cat on her lap and a mouse at her back.
Success lies with Stewart's non-judgmental and supportive approach. Francesca was firmly advised it is unacceptable to make rude comments about the food and everything on the plate must be tasted. Tricky situations like what to do if you drop cutlery on the floor (leave it and discreetly draw the waiter's attention to it), were dealt with.
Before dessert, Francesca was introduced to the restaurant owner, chef Patrick Goubier, and she informed the delighted chef that she didn't realise tomatoes were so delicious. He bowed and kissed her hand. Suddenly, the reason French "little signs" have endured for centuries is clear: manners do make life (and vegetables) infinitely more enjoyable.
Verdict: Francesca says the experience was superb. But it's quite an outlay at HK$3,000. (20 per cent discount for each added child. For five or more children: HK$1,200 per child.)
Hong Kong Institute of Etiquette; hongkongetiquette.com Courses (for adults and children) cover social etiquette, afternoon tea etiquette, and debutante etiquette.