News & Media

A Lesson in Etiquette for Law Students: Mind Your Manners

Published: April 12, 2012
Elaine Swann (L) Gives a Lesson in Etiqutte to PAD Members

By Chelsea Halpine-Berger Phi Alpha Delta, Justice-Elect

The “Etiquette Lady” was in town last Thursday night to bestow some class upon the members of Phi Alpha Delta. Elaine Swann is an Etiquette and Lifestyle Expert who through her book series “Girls Have Style”, her regular appearances on San Diego’s NBC “News in the Morning”, her radio program “The Elaine Show” on am 1000 KCEO, her website and syndicated column, shares up-to-the minute, practical, contemporary etiquette advice and tips. Basically, Elaine is a fancy superhero taking on bad manners one person at a time.

Elaine greeted us in a private dining room at Hotel Solamar. Those of us who dreaded a terrifying “Miss Manners” type were instantly relieved when Elaine began to speak. She was hilarious, down-to-earth, professional and real. Elaine guided us through each course of our meal, demonstrating which fork to use so that you do not embarrass yourself at a business lunch. On the topic of business lunches, Elaine was authoritative: “Chivalry is gender neutral in this setting. Ladies, don’t wait for a man to pull out your chair for you.” Gentleman, this doesn’t completely get you off the hook. Chivalry is not gender neutral on a date, so shun these customs at your peril (because we will be judging you).

As destitute law students, we can count on the rule that if you are invited to a lunch or dinner, you will not be expected to pay. However, if you invite people, be prepared to bust out your credit card. If you do cover the bill, do so in it’s entirety; don’t allow others to cover the gratuity. Also, the “ten-second rule” when you drop food is (surprisingly) not an established rule of etiquette. If your food falls on the table, close to your plate, you can safely eat it. If your food falls on the floor, do not pick it up and ingest it, no matter how delicious.

As we descended like malnourished law students upon real food, Elaine perused the tables to observe our progress, or lack thereof. She hovered behind me. “I’m too scared to eat when you’re here,” I tell her. She laughs. Despite some butter hogs at our table, we were pretty much doing okay. On that note, don’t butter up your bread and then stuff it directly in your face. It is proper to rip off chunks of bread, dip them in butter and then consume. Eating with your hands is sometimes classy. When you are holding a wine glass, keep your grubby mitts off the glass itself, and hold it by the stem. If you take a bit of something horrid, you must resist the urge to spit it into a napkin, which is almost never accomplished discreetly.

Nicole Heffel was very concerned about the taboo of “cleaning your plate,” which is traditionally frowned upon in a formal setting. Let’s be real, if you’re eating a lobster and there are four bites left, you’re not going to leave them for the sake of etiquette. Fortunately, Elaine dismissed this as no longer the mortal etiquette sin of the past. This was especially fortuitous, as most of us had already eaten anything edible that was placed on our table. I was eyeing my neighbor’s untouched Brussels Sprouts. I hopefully asked Elaine if I could eat them, although I already knew the answer. Unfortunately, you cannot finish your neighbor’s food, even if you really want to, without looking like a feral animal.

Elaine was a great sport with all of our questions and made our Spring Etiquette Dinner a great success. Khouloud Elmasri, Director of Professional Events, was instrumental in arranging a lovely and well-run evening for Phi Alpha Delta members.