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Mind Your Manners

Classes Teaching Social Graces to the Small and Tall



Photo by Kristin Burke

If having proper table manners means not picking your nose at dinner, you may want to consider brushing up on your dining etiquette. Judith Ré, founder of The Judith Ré Academie in Fairfield with its “Social Savvy” trademark, will set you straight.

Ré, who started her etiquette career at The Ritz Carlton in Boston before moving to this area, has taught young children for many years, including some local Girl Scout troops. But, she doesn’t just teach the little ones. She has worked with high school and college students as well as business executives who need to immerse themselves in a new corporate culture. “This is not special occasion stuff. This is every day,” she explained. 

Ré has six sessions of etiquette lessons for kids aged 8 to 10 and 11 to 13 planned for the Pequot Library starting in January. Aside from her private and group lessons, she has also been involved with Judge Judy Sheindlin’s Her Honor Mentoring Program for over 20 girls in the Westchester area. These girls need guidance through some of the more complicated things in life—finding and achieving goals or even applying for college.

When you say “etiquette,” many people associate the word with Miss Manners or Emily Post. In fact, Post put it best when she said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

Ré couldn’t agree more. It’s about kindness. The every day, small things we do to be considerate to others. A quick note of thanks. A kind gesture. Dropping off a meal. Or just taking time to ask, “How are you?” and actually listening to the answer.

It may be the little things that count. But, some folks want their children to do the white gloves—cotillion-style. Take The Barclay Classes, for example. Since the 1930s, they have been teaching children how to use proper manners in a social setting. They use ballroom dancing as the basis of the course, which includes table manners. Classes are available throughout the tri-state area as well as Pennsylvania and Ohio. Just like Ré, Barclay holds their classes at the Pequot Library in Southport.

Lois Thomson, Barclay’s Director since 1991, said that taking these classes is just a developmental rite of passage. They teach kids aged 8 to 12. As Thomson put it, at that age, they soak up new things “like sponges.” Many times, students come to the first class thinking they’ll be the only ones attending. Then, they look around and see all their friends.

“I tell them, ‘These are the easiest classes you will ever take,’” she quipped. “There are no tests and there is no homework.”

Their classes, which are typically held once a month during the school year, consist of proper introductions, making appropriate small talk, good table manners, and even how to handle electronics in a social setting. In the age of technology, politeness and tact are often left by the wayside. Frankly, people don’t even make good eye contact anymore. The joke that two people can sit across from each other in a Starbucks and text rather than talk is only half funny. The other half is the truth. 

Using kindness and humility in your daily actions makes you a considerate person. With today’s “Selfie” mentality, that can be all but forgotten. 

Nicole Dragone of Charming Children in Southbury respects that. As she puts it, etiquette is the rules. Manners are how you choose to follow the rules. And, that is never more true than in today’s social media craze. “It’s shocking what the age of social media is doing to our children,” said Dragone. “But even adults need to practice their manners. Everyone needs to put the phone down and come to the dinner table.” 

Dragone, whose husband runs the Mimi Dragone car dealership in Bridgeport, has a long list of programs she offers that deals directly with today’s social issues. From how to act properly at a sleepover, play date, or carpool to not being a sore loser after a game, she covers a wide range of topics. “It’s about giving kids more confidence,” she said. “These are the natural skills they are going to use when they go out into the world.” n

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