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Saving the Swiss Finishing School
December 9, 2012 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Can the 'Swiss finishing school' be saved? The finishing-school tradition dates from the 1800s, when wealthy debutantes began coming to Switzerland, famed for its clean air, majestic mountains and multilingual population. Here, they would complete their education by acquiring the domestic and life skills needed to run a household – and to attract a suitable husband. The goal was to produce an ideal mate, someone refined and accomplished with impeccable manners.

[A] fundamental change is on the horizon: Next month, for the first time in its history, the institute will provide a finishing touch to gentlemen as well as ladies. A generation ago, something like this would have been unthinkable. Now, it may prove to be essential to the school and what it represents.
posted by modernnomad (28 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
At least we will still have the Swiss Finishing Move.

NEUTRALITY!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:07 PM on December 9, 2012 [37 favorites]


As a career chick in my late 20s I think this sounds awesome and if I had that much cash laying around it would be a really interesting thing to spend it on.

But had anyone tried to do this to me as an 18 year old (or even 22 year old) I would have suggested they do some very unladlylike things with their idea.
posted by olinerd at 1:07 PM on December 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is the better question, "Should it be saved?".
posted by parliboy at 1:11 PM on December 9, 2012 [10 favorites]


A video with interviews with current students

The women aren't talking about finding a husband, they're talking about managing business relationships. Maybe it's their husbands' business relationships? Obviously the gender role enforcement is palpable.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:17 PM on December 9, 2012


Either way, it looks fun as hell.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:18 PM on December 9, 2012


"True manners, she argues, are about listening well and making people feel comfortable, not snobbery."

"It's website says that, as well as being “elegant, exclusive and charming,” the school “will prepare you for a role in the business world and society” and “help you become more effective in multicultural environments.” "

Since both of these point toward better communication and acceptance, I say that this sort of education is not just worth saving, it ought to be expanded to more than just the wealthy.
posted by oddman at 1:19 PM on December 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


Everything I know about Swiss finishing school I learned by watching Lace: WHICH ONE OF YOU BITCHES IS MY MOTHER!?
posted by 1970s Antihero at 1:25 PM on December 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


I remember taking a Japanese course at a local junior college. The woman teaching the course knew the intricacies of Japanese gift-giving (as strict as the rules for properly bowing) and was in high demand for planning and coordinating high level meetings and general interfacing between Japanese and Silicon Valley companies.

I could see a usefulness and relevancy for these kind of skills (as opposed to training to find and be a good spouse, which is probably better taught by some group like OkCupid). Good corporate diplomacy could make the difference between deals going through and falling apart.
posted by eye of newt at 1:35 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


eye of newt : I could see a usefulness and relevancy for these kind of skills

Or, y'know, we could all agree to join the 21st century and dispense with the BS rules about which person needs to bow more deeply based on their age, sex, index finger length, income, family name, and the number of threes in their phone number.

Social niceties as an abstraction, cool. Programming female protocol droids, let it die.
posted by pla at 1:44 PM on December 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


Oh man, this brings back a memory. When I was seven or eight, and I wouldn't behave at the table, my mother would threaten to send me to a Swiss finishing school -- a place I had never heard of in any other context, until now. She was of course not serious, but I wasn't quite sure of that, and it sounded so dreadful and forbidding and European. The idea was generally enough to get me to quit trying to stick cherry stems up my nose.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:01 PM on December 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


The idea was generally enough to get me to quit trying to stick cherry stems up my nose.

During the fish course, the straw goes up the left nostril. Change sides for the cheese course.
posted by Nomyte at 2:13 PM on December 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


As a career chick in my late 20s I think this sounds awesome and if I had that much cash laying around it would be a really interesting thing to spend it on.

Yeah this part
The atmosphere is heavy with tradition and ritual in the elegant living room, where Ms. Néri serves tea in china cups served on a polished silver platter, along with sugar cubes and wrapped spheres of Swiss chocolate.

Sounds FUN to me. But then again, I love high tea and stuff like that. It almost seems a bit trendy these days, with a lot of urban tea shops doing really formal high teas. In a culture where people wear dull clothes nearly every day, it seems a bit almost transgressive to wear a fancy dress and care about the china your tea is served in.

It's funny though- my grandma, who was not upper class at all, attended finishing school in the South. Back then it was something nearly all young women in the Gulf area of the South did. They were often called colleges though women didn't really end up learning much beyond domestic skills I suppose.
posted by melissam at 2:41 PM on December 9, 2012


Or, y'know, we could all agree to join the 21st century and dispense with the BS rules about which person needs to bow more deeply based on their age, sex, index finger length, income, family name, and the number of threes in their phone number.

I mean, I get the gist of what you're saying, and yes, true. But I appreciate a certain amount of ritual and ceremony -- like, that's why I as an American love the British royal family. I like seeing all the pomp and circumstance of weddings and Jubilees. It's fascinating to me. I went to a high table dinner at Oxford with a friend doing his doctorate there -- awesome, all those kids in academic robes, fellows in tuxes and cocktail dresses, retiring for port in a fancy drawing room afterward. Even "small" things like graduation ceremonies in the US I think are fun, because that level of ceremony is something we don't often get to do, those anachronistic traditions and rituals. It doesn't reduce my position in the world to partake of or to enjoy these things, and if I do partake of them I'd like to do it "right".

Beyond that, I'd love to have what basically appears to be an executive coach on steroids who could work with me on business etiquette, small talk and conversational techniques, and ways of putting people at ease. I think I'm fairly friendly, but I'm still a socially awkward geek at heart and I'd like to be better at it.

I mean, let's face it. We're all arm charms at some point. Even in the most egalitarian relationships, which I feel my partner and I have, he has to show up at my work events, and I have to show up at his, and we each have to make the other look good in front of peers and bosses. It's not like either of us will be promoted or fired based on how our spouse behaves, but it certainly is a positive thing if we both know how to be pleasant, engaging, charming, intelligent, and respectful to the other's family, friends, and colleagues.

And really, the goal isn't to train a bunch of people to clutch their pearls if someone else uses the wrong fork at dinner. The goal is to teach social grace, isn't it? It's to learn to be totally unflappable even if the person whose hand you have to shake sneezes a nasty snotty sneeze into their gross sweaty hand just before shaking yours. Or when the foreign businessman mistakes a female executive for a secretary. Or to save the conversation after a political discussion gets awkward to the point of angry silence. I can't say those aren't all skills I'd love to develop, and with a fairly international lifestyle thanks to work, I'd love to be culturally fluent about it.
posted by olinerd at 3:00 PM on December 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


At least we will still have the Swiss Finishing Move.

NEUTRALITY!


The Swiss Finishing Move is to hold the money no questions asked.

This is all about training bank tellers.
posted by srboisvert at 3:04 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


We'll never be truly free until we're all wearing greasy overalls and openly breaking wind in public.
posted by codswallop at 3:09 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


We'll never be truly free until we're all wearing greasy overalls and openly breaking wind in public.

This only applies to women. All the men will be at high tea.
posted by Nomyte at 3:15 PM on December 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


I come from a strictly lower middle class, since both my parents were school teachers. Nevertheless the quirkiest part of my table manners education was having to learn to peel and section all fruit with fork and knife. My children, when young, were totally impressed to see me dissecting an orange. The worst? Ripe plum are too squirty, cherries are way too small and slippery.

One cannot really enjoy a piece of fruit when one has to use fork and knife.
posted by francesca too at 3:16 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


FINISH HIM!!!!

</mortalkombat>
posted by blue_beetle at 3:54 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought men went to this finishing school.

By the way, I always thought that Blofeld's "Bleauchamp Institute for Allergy Research" in On Her Majesty's Secret Service was in some ways a gag on a Swiss finishing school.
posted by dhartung at 6:17 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh no! What will happen to the chalet school? Will it move again?
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:48 PM on December 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Actually, I kinda think the Swiss Finishing Move™ is either most of the population reaching into the closet for the assault rifle to shoot you with ("The Militia") or a halberd-stab to the keep-you-alive bits ("The Pontifical Poke").
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:16 PM on December 9, 2012


Swiss finishing school did wonders for Kim Jong-un.
posted by bardic at 8:11 PM on December 9, 2012


Oh no! What will happen to the chalet school? Will it move again?

Good grief, someone other than me has heard of the Chalet School. I never did read the last book in the series, you don't happen to know what became of it, do you?
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 9:26 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sounds lovely but I doubt I could tolerate that much propriety. Gives me gas. Not pretty.
posted by Goofyy at 5:14 AM on December 10, 2012


Well, it's harder than ever to find a suitable husband. So there's that.
posted by discopolo at 5:46 AM on December 10, 2012


I don't know, HypotheticalWoman. Maybe the Naughtiest Girl went there as an exchange student and burned it down.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:33 AM on December 10, 2012


This is fascinating! I'd go if I could afford it.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:32 AM on December 10, 2012


HypotheticalWoman: the good girls got married; the thoughtful(*) girls joined convents; the bad girls went to unhappy ends.

(*) honestly having trouble with this word but i think it might be most appropriate!

There are published continuations (plus plenty of fanfic, obvs) if you look around.
posted by emilly at 2:19 PM on December 10, 2012


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