IN an era dominated by tweeting, twerking and selfies, an etiquette course may seem like a quaint notion.
But for Kristian Bonnici, it’s a modern-day essential.
“I believe etiquette is like a secret that was lost, and people are very keen to rediscover it,” Kristian says.
“When it comes to classic pleasantries which are so important in human interaction, in the past we have really relegated them, ignored them, and to our own detriment. I think people are becoming more interested in them now, and realising their importance – they want to develop themselves.”
Kristian, a former deputy high commissioner of Malta, is running a one-off protocol and etiquette course with his diplomatic envoy consultancy agency in Canberra this month and later, in other cities around the nation. Aimed at educating and preparing men and women hosting social occasions during the festive season, course lessons include proper grooming, use of cutlery, table conversation and correct posture.
“Protocol and etiquette is like a martial art – you have to be very disciplined,” Kristian says.
“People can take this course, they can master it, and it’s a lifetime investment for them.”
When we meet in person, Kristian is true to his cause – holding the door open, pulling out chairs, excellent posture. He explains he was raised to practice good protocol and etiquette from a young age, which proved useful with his future as a diplomat.
But what about today’s youth, otherwise known as “Gen Y”? Does etiquette fit in with their world of soft-filters and selfies?
“I received many inquiries from young people, and people in their 20s and 30s, about the course. Actually, they were very interested to learn,” says Kristian.
“I think people realise as much as we speak about our inner beauty, and that first impressions don’t matter, in life, we know people judge. Manners do count. Jane Austen herself said, ‘anything can be forgiven if manners are good’. And if a young person is hoping to enter the workforce, first impressions – everything from presentation, posture, to a handshake – are crucial.”
During our interview, Kristian is quick to quash a few myths – reach to the glass on the right of the dinner table, not the left (this reporter got it wrong), and surprisingly, discussing politics and religion is fine, provided it doesn’t get too heated.
“Amongst friends, dinner should never be boring, it should always be entertaining,” Kristian says.
“If you’re discussing a hot political subject and it’s gone too far, you might need to agree to disagree and change the subject. As the host, you’re always the mediator.”
Music and candles are essential for atmosphere, he says, while chewing slowly is not only polite, it can aid digestion.
Then there’s the importance of seating – don’t put a chatty person next to a chatty person or a “listener” next to a listener. And to avoid elbow bumping, place a left-handed guest at the end of the table.
Knowing good manners and protocol across all cultures can also extend to business; it’s been known to make or break a crucial business meeting, says Kristian.
“For instance, in London it is rude to discuss business before your mains are served, but in New York, it’s perfectly acceptable to broach the topic as soon as you order,” he says.
Ironically, our interview ends with a conveniently timed social faux pas – I extend my hand to say goodbye at the same time as our photographer.
As expected, Kristian handles it smoothly, politely shaking the photographer’s before mine. “He extended first,” he explains with a laugh, before walking us to the door.
Protocol and Etiquette Class, Saturday, December 14, at Rydges Capital Hill. Visit diplomaticenvoy.com.au or call 6161 8629 for more details.
Main photo: Gary Schafer