Mind your manners

love-opera-victoria-bakerOnce upon a time, young ladies went to finishing school to prepare them for a life as the perfect hostess with perfect manners. But nowadays it seems having perfect manners, or any manners at all for that matter, is obsolete.

Or so I thought.

That was before I heard of Miss Sara Jane Ho, a pioneer in the field of proper manners, who is single handedly bringing old world etiquette to the emerging upper classes in China. The founder of Institute Sarita in Beijing, Miss Ho has created a unique series of courses, the educational value of which rivals any Swiss finishing school.

Popular courses champion topics like afternoon tea, how to pronounce luxury brand names like Louboutin and Piaget, the intricacies of polo and how to make polite conversation. I need to brush up on a few of these topics so perhaps I should sign myself up too, Although it should be noted a two week course will cost me RMB 100,000 which is roughly $16,000 in American dollars.

Perhaps I could get a scholarship?

The education received at Institute Sarita is considered a valuable asset to both men and women seeking to differentiate themselves from their nouveau riche counterparts. Miss Sara Jane Ho’s clients are well traveled, wealthy and savvy enough to understand that investing in their savoir-faire will reap dividends.

Admittedly, much of this training is geared towards Westernization and learning how to fit in when doing business with Western clients. Essentially, it’s an elegant East-West fusion that they are hoping to achieve.

And who better qualified than Miss Ho herself? She is a product of the German Swiss International School in Hong Kong which she attended before moving on to Harvard Business School. Finally, she polished off her education at the Swiss finishing school Institut Villa Pierrefeu where she picked up her old school elegance.

She speaks Cantonese as well as perfect British English, French and German. Oh and did I mention, she’s very pretty too.

The afternoon tea course is taught on the finest of china, sterling flatware and seated atop French antique furniture. When she’s not teaching in her ultra-chic digs in Beijing she takes her students with her to embassy parties, polo matches and the like where they can practice their newly acquired skills. Her students are industry leaders and highly-successful entrepreneurs for whom great wealth without class is simply not enough.

I wish there was a similar course here. I really need to brush up on my dining table etiquette. It makes one wonder, on this side of the world we try to do away with protocol and dining table etiquette is completely useless. But I’m happy to report that there are still places where such old school values are very much alive and well.


Victoria Baker, of Greenwich, is an opera singer. Winner of many prestigious competitions, she has performed and worked with distinguished artists all over the world (notably at Lincoln Center). Should you have any questions that deserve answers and may be in print please call 203-531-7499 or e-mail [email protected]

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