It’s Not All That Charming at MIT

A recent feature on CBS Sunday Morning about the new Charm School at MIT has Qualipedia’s feathers in a ruffle.  The program is designed to help students develop basic etiquette skills that they may not otherwise have in order to join the work force with the competitive advantage of having some basic etiquette skills in hand: how to conduct oneself at a dinner, greetings, dress, serving food and wine, etc….  The feature, unfortunately shows a program that while a fantastically brilliant concept, needs work.  Here is a list of some of the faux pas you will see in this video:

  1. In the clip about red wine, it appears as if the student is holding the red by the stem. Red is always held by the bowl, not the stem.  Also in this clip, there are individual bottles of water and cans of soft drinks on the table.  It appears that the water and soft drinks will be drunk from bottles and cans.
  2. A teacher’s claim to “never, never place a fork down, tines must always be placed up on the plate” is not categorically true, so be careful with “never, never”.  American style vs. continental (Europe and South America) style of eating and setting table: Continental style–even in U.S. restaurants– fork tines down for eating and usually in table settings, and often placed for plate removal. Classic European flatware has design and/or monogram on backs of forks. Downward tines historically considered less aggressive. Also knife edges–both American and European point inward.
  3. One teacher states “if you have a mustard stain from three weeks ago, you probably shouldn’t wear that to work.”  No, you definitely should not wear that to work, or anywhere else where there are other people.
  4. A teacher claims “if someone toasts you, always return the toast.” No, that’s not entirely correct, and you never ever toast yourself.  When a toast is given in your honor, keep your glass down, never raise it.  You always acknowledge the toast with a nod or a thank you–the occasion determines whether you return the toast. Also, never stand while being toasted.
  5. There is a woman teaching a class with her legs crossed over the top of her knee.  Proper etiquette is that women in a formal social situation should not cross over the top; the cross should be at the ankle. Furthermore, this seated instructor has not only wrongly crossed legs, but is seated with bottoms of both feet pointed at students– unattractive and rude–I am certain that MIT has some Moslem students who would profit from these classes but should not be insulted while attending.

We applaud that MIT is trying to set standards for business etiquette with students who have more than likely not been exposed to this type of instruction in the past, and we understand that these are abbreviated segments from short lessons. It is true that globalization and diversity bring a new perspective to our careers and lifestyles. However, it is the small things and everyday behaviors that most significantly impact our professional image. The quality of the students’ professionalism will depend largely on the quality of their information.

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