August 7, 2009 / 8:23 PM / 9 years ago

Recession spurs Americans to brush up on manners

NEW YORK (Reuters) - More Americans are turning to charm school in a bid to gain an advantage over rivals in a job market battered by the longest economic slump since the Great Depression, experts say.

A simple plate of cheese, crackers and carrots is set for for the table setting of the meeting of closed, off-the-record lunch with U.S. President Barack Obama and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in the President's Private Dining Room at the White House in Washington, in this undated photograph released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout

Etiquette trainers and consultants report growing business from clients who believe that a good grip on manners could be the key selling point that helps them get hired or keeps them off the unemployment line.

“People I think are prepared to do whatever it takes to maintain their job and to have some sort of an edge immediately,” said Gloria Starr, an adviser on corporate image, etiquette and communications in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Starr, who says business is up 40 percent in the past year at her Modern Day Finishing School, said people were “realizing that it takes more than just competency and knowledge” to keep or win a job.

Peggy Newfield, who has been teaching etiquette for 30 years and runs the Atlanta-based American School of Protocol, said business was “booming.”

“We cannot keep up,” she said. “When the economy is down etiquette training will always be up. They’re focussing on ‘What I can do to survive, I have to really up my game because the competition is keen.’”

Proper business manners, however, extend far beyond greeting or thanking a prospective employer. Etiquette classes tend to dwell on the basics of presentation in an interview, including what to say and how to dress.

“It’s so much more than writing the thank-you note at the end,” Newfield said. “It’s about walking in for the job interview, every hair is in place, your clothes are immaculately pressed, your shoes are polished, you’re groomed to the nines, you speak the part, your English is correct.”

Studies have shown that “85 percent of the reason a person gets a job, keeps a job and moves up is related to their people skills,” said Carol Haislip, director of The International School of Protocol in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

“There are very few jobs out there where your manners, where your socials skills, are not a big piece of what it will take to be successful,” she said. “Manners are the great equalizer and if you have manners you can walk into any business or social situation.”

Teaching etiquette has become a tougher chore, according to consultants who point to public misbehaviour by athletes and celebrities as a factor in the erosion of good manners in U.S. society.

Hotel heiress Paris Hilton, actress Lindsay Lohan and singer Britney Spears are among those who have been skewered for setting a poor example, especially for children and adolescents.

Hilton is infamous for a lewd sex tape that became an Internet hit, Lohan has long been gossip fodder due to her run-ins with the law and Spears was photographed partying without underwear.

Countering that trend are reality make-over TV series such as VH1’s “Charm School” and Britain’s “Ladette to Lady,” which see wild young women compete against each other as they are taught to behave like ladies, and several lifestyle books.

“For too long this ‘stupid girl’ behaviour has been burning the daily headlines and I really think there’s a lot of people out there who wanted to see a return to our feminine values,” said Jordan Christy, author of the new book “How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World.”

Christy’s book has chapters titled “Keep Your Chin Up and Your Skirt Down,” “Dress to Impress” and “Let Him Come Calling.”

“I hope that the book serves as a call to action to the young women of this generation to stand up and take back our dignity and our values and our self respect,” said the 24-year-old Tennessee-based writer.

“It’s great that we have seen this resurgence in etiquette and manners and self respect.”

Editing by Paul Simao

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