SFR: How do you get into this? Were you just a really polite kid?
BG: [Laughs] Yes, I was raised with good etiquette. My father was very kind and treated people equally and respectfully and with genuine interest. My mother is a savvy business entrepreneur. I’m also from New England, where it is a bit more formal and conservative. As far as what got me into teaching it, I’d say that a big influence was Sept. 11 and the international perception of the United States and improving our standing. There’s the misconception of Americans being rude and loud—
That’s a misconception?
Well, now I’m being polite. These days you can be very isolated with texting and iPods and computers. Young people don’t know how to look adults in the eye, or one another in the eye. They don’t know how to conduct themselves in university interviews or job interviews. They chew gum a lot of the time. Young people don’t have a lot of resources to learn how to be mature adults and respect their surroundings.
So, what gives you the authority to tell me how to act? Is there some kind of etiquette teachers’ school?
Yes, yes, there is. I do have my experience and my upbringing, and I’ve done a lot of reading, but I also did go to school for this on several occasions. I have several certificates from the American School of Protocol and I take more classes when my teacher, Peggy Newfield, introduces new ones. It’s one thing to know it yourself; it’s a whole other thing to impart that wisdom on others.
Your motto is, ‘It’s not just about the fork.’ Explain.
Etiquette is guidelines for behavior in any environment. It’s not just about the fork. It’s about respecting the earth, respecting your elders; it’s about behaving appropriately in a restaurant; it’s about being confident when you’re speaking to the public; it’s about feeling powerful when you’re having a business lunch and you’re trying to close the deal. And it might just be that fork—is it a fish fork? A dessert fork? A salad fork? But that’s only one part of it. It’s not only treating people the way you would like to be treated, but it’s treating people the way they would like to be treated.
What kind of people tend to take your classes?
For children, it’s the parents signing them up. In this day and age, with the household structure changing, we don’t often have mom and dad sitting down around the table with all the children. The limited amount of time that parents do have with their children, they don’t want to be telling their kids what to do. As for adult students, some just want to brush up on their skills. Maybe they’re unfamiliar with what wine goes in what shaped wine glass. Some people are nervous about public speaking, power lunches, business mixers. I get some very interesting requests. I recently had a couple that broke off their engagement after they sent out ‘Save the Date’ cards. There’s specific etiquette with regard to that, as to who you contact first.
When you eat in restaurants, are you hyper-aware of the things people around you are doing wrong?
No, but everyone is paranoid to eat with me. But really, I’m the least judgmental person in the world. As far as I’m concerned, yes, there is a proper way to do things and that is important, but the most important thing is that everyone is appreciating the experience, appreciating the food and respecting the service that they’re getting. It’s a bigger picture. But people are still terrified of having lunch with me.
Well, that aside, are there any mistakes that people tend to make that you just can’t stand?
I do have issues with adults chewing gum in a business setting. I was recently at a campaign fund-raiser where Barack Obama spoke and some of the local dignitaries that were addressing the group were chewing gum. I thought that was unprofessional, very Britney Spears. For a dining situation, I’m peeved when someone butters the whole piece of bread and takes a bite, as opposed to breaking of a bite-sized piece. That, and just leaving silverware willy-nilly all over the plate when you’re finished. There are positions for them.
Where do they go?
If you’re dining American, you cut the food with the knife in your right hand, then switch the fork from left to right to eat. While you’re eating, the knife is placed at the top of the plate with the blade facing you, and your fork, if you’re resting, would be placed on the plate at 4 o’clock. When you’re finished, you bring them together around 3 o’clock. That’s called closeout. If you’re dining Continental—the way the rest of the world eats—eat with the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right. When you’re resting, your silverware is in a triangle at seven and four, and you closeout at six.
With regards to the recent presidential debates, what advice would you give either Barack Obama or John McCain?
What stood out for me was how Barack Obama made an effort to turn his head and look at McCain. He also made an effort to find the common ground with his opponent, which I thought was the mature thing to do. John McCain never once made eye contact from what we could see, and I thought that was inappropriate. I would like my commander in chief and vice president to have a command of the English language, to have a good handshake, to make eye contact and to be respectful of their opponents.