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Surviving At the Dinner Table Will Require A Little Etiquette

By Suzanne Cristallo, Los Gatos Weekly-Times – 08/24/2005 – 12:00am

Teaching etiquette is all in a day’s work for Sue Fox, the founder of Etiquette Survival in Los Gatos.

We’ve all seen them–small children in social situations who grab at food on the table before others are seated, preteens who make finger food of steak, teenagers at the table with iPods stuck in their ears or cell phones at the ready and, finally, adults at social gatherings double-dipping appetizers in the sauce.

“Lack of graciousness is an epidemic,” says Sue Fox, who founded Etiquette Survival in Los Gatos as an answer to the plague of bad manners she says goes back 20 years. It’s increasingly evident, not only on freeways where a “me first” attitude prevails, or in customer service where there’s a lack of eye contact, but also with the self-absorption of young people who never wait for a hostess to take the first bite.

Fox grants that many parents today are overwhelmed. The over-scheduling of their children’s lives makes time for a family sit-down dinner expendable. As a result, fast food on the run precludes the opportunity for parents to set an example at the table. “There’s no chance for families to socialize,” she says, noting that even in the animal world, a horse or dog kept from its own kind before it can be properly socialized will be ostracized by the group.

Etiquette Survival offers another chance for both youngsters and adults to be reminded of the good manners their grandparents and schools at one time stressed. Through workshops set up at such local restaurants as Sent Sovi and The Basin in Saratoga or Kuleto’s in Los Gatos, Fox, a Los Gatan and former Saratogan, says she offers the chance to practice time-proven guidelines for etiquette and behavior in social situations. “These are not just Grandma’s rules!” the grandmother of a 2-year-old declares. They are the tools of social survival.

Before starting her business 10 years ago, Fox spent 11 years at Apple Computers where she observed firsthand that many young employees being sent on business trips and mixing in a multi-cultural society were ill at ease because they were unsure of their social skills. It became even more apparent after the high tech crash when out-of-work people came to her for private sessions.

“They wanted to know what would make them stand out over other job applicants,” she notes. She emphasized a firm handshake, posture, eye contact, listening skills and manners at the table.

In her dining workshop, one of several etiquette workshops she offers, Fox covers comportment from the moment a person walks into a restaurant. She discusses ordering, conversation, how to hold utensils (both European and American style), where to leave a napkin if temporarily or permanently leaving the table, where butter plates and glasses are placed.

“When girls start dating, it makes a big impression when a fellow has good table manners,” Fox says. “But getting them to relate comes from asking them what embarrasses them and how they felt.” With smaller children, she assigns homework of setting tables. She also makes a point of telling the children, out of courtesy, not to correct their parents. “I had one parent who insisted that the napkins were always placed on the right side.”

Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies, one of two books she’s written for the best-selling book series “For Dummies,” has overcome the stodgy image of manners as the realm of mid-century mavens like Emily Post. She is recognized particularly among Pacific Rim people as essential to doing business with Westerners. “They’re more aware of what good behavior is than some of us are,” she says.

Classes run $150 per person for a three-hour session including food. The shorter children’s classes are $50 to $75 with lunch.

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