You, Too, Can Learn Proper Napkin Etiquette At The Plaza's Finishing School

It took a professional historian to make sure the English nobility drama “Downton Abbey” was well-mannered enough. Thanks to the work of Alastair Bruce, characters on the show properly stood, sat, ate, drank and wore evening gloves, according to rules that had been finessed for centuries.

That’s not because manners are currently obsolete; most people aside from that one guy who sits by you at your office learned the basics of posture and how to avoid repulsive eating or drinking noises. At its simplest level, that’s all etiquette is ― how to be a social person without bumming out everyone else. In the 21st century, though, the rules have changed. And, for those interested, there are still people who will tell you “the right way” to stand, sit, eat and choose an outfit for dinner. For a price.

In January, The Plaza Hotel in New York ― now two decades free from the ownership of Donald Trump ― is slated to open its very own etiquette school so that “those looking for a prestigious international education in etiquette no longer have to fly to Europe.” Guests can reserve spots in two types of classes led by manners maven Myka Meier: single evening courses for $75 and immersive weekend packages starting at $2,750. 

They’re pricey, but useful.

At a recent Plaza brunch, Meier demonstrated for a group of reporters how to properly wrangle a cloth napkin. The “right” way, she said, is to place the napkin on your lap just after you sit. The napkin should be unfolded, to the left, refolded in half and placed on your lap. Any and all wiping should be done on the inner sides, from the edge near the crease, so that the folded napkin remains clean on both sides. When you’re finished eating, you can pinch the napkin from the center and lay it a conical shape to the left of your plate. 

(The “wrong” way, we assume, is how we used to wrangle cloth napkins ― by smearing croissant flakes from our fingers on any side, eventually working the cloth into a greasy ball.)

If you ask Meier, the “right” ways to do things haven’t changed so much as they’ve been updated. Men don’t have to hold doors for women, because, it turned out, women have functioning arms. (Also: Feminism.) Opening a door for someone nowadays is merely a sign of respect.

After lessons in Western manners from finishing schools in England and Switzerland, Meier will bring her expertise to the Plaza. It’s a fitting place, we learned, because staff are already told to behave as “actors,” performing their jobs as if they were part of a show (called “Downton Abbey”).

The Plaza Finishing Program with Beaumont Etiquette covers tips for business, dating, dining and wedding etiquette. With certain unnamed guest speakers, Meier will cover how to enter and exit cars, converse, eat spaghetti, choose a diamond, pose for photos, use “sophisticated verbiage” and speak with service people ― then, presumably, how to properly apply Purell. (We kid.)

Sit up straight, cross your ankles ― both heels on the floor ― and head here to check it out.

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