Saturday, March 19, 2011
How to be a lady
I recently finished watching a tv series I had recorded - The Ladies of Hedsor Hall. A group of rowdy young American women are sent to Hedsor Hall Finishing School in England. Aside from the inevitable cat fights, I really enjoyed the programme.
I would have loved attending something like that myself, although these girls could have eaten me alive. And it's only now that I'm older that I can appreciate the lessons.
Hedsor Hall has a crest which stands for everything that defines a true lady - 'dignity, discipline and grace'.
The girls had a few rules when they first moved in:
- No swearing
- No excess drinking
- Lights out at 10pm
- Act like ladies at all times
They sound like not unreasonable rules to live life by in general.
Each girl was given a set of pearls to wear while they attended finishing school. The headmistress told them 'pearls become brighter and shinier with wear over time. Wear them to remind yourself you are a lady'.
Tidying up their appearance, the teachers asked them to aim for 'neat and tidy' and wear their hair off their face, with hair styled 'like a lady, not a 12 year old girl'. A smooth ponytail is ladylike for example, whereas pigtails are not.
They were given classes in various areas and I had to take notes. It's never too late to refine oneself, I feel.
Deportment. Sit up straight. The girls were taught to walk with a book on their head, and even tried walking with a book and a glass of water on their head. The book-walking was more successful and looked more natural than the book- and glass-walking.
Falconry, pheasant shooting. Just the usual everyday pursuits you might follow in the English countryside.
Art class, flower arranging. They actually created really pretty and professional looking flower arrangements (in oasis on a dish, rather than in a vase).
Fine wines. Some of the girls refused to spit the wine out, not wanting to waste it. I'm afraid I might be like that, but if I was in esteemed company I'd hope I would follow the lead of the others.
Social etiquette. Making conversation is about making people feel comfortable. It is bad manners to interrupt someone when they are speaking. A lady drinks on certain occasions and not to excess.
Anger management. Learning how to be a lady is learning how to manage your anger and control your emotions. Find an outlet for your anger (in their case they went fencing. As you do).
Dancing. In the elegant world of a lady, mastering dances such as the waltz can demonstrate grace and refinement.
Table etiquette. To honour your host, try any food that is put in front of you. Try to finish 2/3. Of course they chose the foods which would challenge the girls most - haggis, lamb testicles are the few I remember. I doubt I would ever come across a dinner party where delights such as these are served, but I would give it a good go and not complain and retch. I don't eat pork products but have had a couple of occasions where I have because I am somewhere as a guest. Of course if you are vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons it is different, but if, like me, you don't eat something just because you don't care for it, it can't hurt to be polite to your host or hostess.
Sexual etiquette. Men are hunters. Men love the chase. You have to be that prize. The prize that that person will want to come home to. Naturally their former behaviour of hooking up with guys they'd met in a bar that night was frowned upon.
Appearance makeovers. Hair is taken back close to the natural colour and is styled to be 'neat and prim'. All facial piercings are removed and makeup is applied in neutral colours. 'Looks aren't everything but they are important. First impressions are made as soon as you walk into a room'.
The Disciplinarian (one of the teachers had this title - isn't it wonderful?) said of her class: 'The trouble with these girls is that they all live in their little boxes, filled with alcohol, men and a complete lack of ambition. In order to be really successful in life, you've got to experience new things... expand your horizons'.
I feel lucky that I had rather a better influence in life than a lot of these girls. There were some very sad stories. I have never felt the need to start a bar brawl, or to have my eyebrow pierced (at the tamer end of the scale). I have my mum to thank for trying her best to mold me into a lady from a young age.
Some of her words I can still recall: 'Speak properly', 'at least try something once before you say you don't like it', 'horses sweat, men perspire, ladies glow' and 'airports have lounges, Fiona, homes have living rooms'. My sister and I were taken complainingly to the theatre. But thankfully some of her lessons have rubbed off on me.
So won't we all put our pearls on today and head out into the world to 'be a lady'?