In the U of T Faculty Club’s elegant upper dining room, 25 Rotman Commerce students are attempting to consume Moroccan vegetable soup in a genteel manner. They fill their spoons to the three-quarter mark, gliding the utensils away from themselves. They then tilt the silverware into their mouths without leaning forward. There are varying degrees of success: more than one slurp is heard; more than one slumped back seen. But they have guidance from Leanne Pepper, the Faculty Club’s general manager, who teaches etiquette and protocol training to U of T alumni, faculty, staff and students. Pepper, in a navy pantsuit that doesn’t exhibit one stray hair or fleck of lint, carries herself with perfect comportment. And her authority is well-earned; she was trained and certified by the Washington School of Protocol.
Because corporate employers often take potential employees to a dinner or a social event during a later round of interviews, “how you conduct yourself at the dining-room table can be the deciding factor,” says Pepper. In other words, if you’ve got the intellectual know-how, do you really want to mess it up by slurping your soup?
Today’s class is on international dining etiquette – students are not only learning the fundamentals, such as the correct handling of cutlery, and Continental and American styles of dining – but tips that will help them be polite the world over. Pepper mentions eye contact: in Latin America, for example, it’s best to keep eye contact to a minimum as it can be taken as an affront or a challenge to authority. She states that, in Japan, when you pick up sushi from the communal tray, turn your chopsticks around – don’t use the same ends you use while eating off of your own plate. That’s the North American equivalent of double-dipping your vegetables.
Cynthia Bishop, the director of Student Life, Career Services and Alumni at Rotman Commerce, regularly arranges for students to take Faculty Club etiquette sessions. “As corporations expand their businesses into new markets [such as India and other parts of Asia, and Brazil and elsewhere in South America], and international recruitment becomes more prominent, students who learn to appreciate and leverage diversity in the workplace will be the best leaders.”
To arrange a group etiquette session, contact Leanne Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org.