The Master of Manners
In a step ahead towards a more genteel society, and a world full of decent manners, Dina El Selmy, the stunning etiquette consultant, sets out the proper behaviour for everyday life and different occasions to help us feel poised and graceful. We have all experienced situations when we wanted to behave appropriately and respectably, but didn’t know what to say or how to act. It doesn’t come with intuition or common sense, but by learning from the experts. Thus, Dina organises ‘Urban Contemporary Etiquette’ programs to gear us towards success, and a more civilised community. The etiquette expert talks to (in)Sight’s Dina Fawzy about her personal life, how she started her business, and gives us some tips.
What can you tell us about yourself?
I’m a mum and a wife. I enjoy my job as an etiquette consultant, as it has changed my life to the better.
What sparked you interest in etiquette?
It all started when I watched a talk show about business etiquette on CNN. My mindset has changed completely since I implemented those few tips. I felt more confident and positive, which made me curious to know more about the field.
How did you start your business in Egypt?
It took years of hard work, determination, and perseverance to conduct ‘Urban Contemporary Etiquette’ programs and to turn this into a real, valuable business. Few months after being certified as a consultant in the field, I have launched a lifestyle etiquette event and was amazed by the responses and support I received from people, brands, and the media. My husband’s ongoing motivation is also one of the main reasons behind this kick off.
In your opinion, does learning universal etiquette improve our lives?
You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you don’t practise a proper code of behaviour, the chances of maximizing success can be zero. There’s always an inner conflict between how much we should follow our instincts of social conventions, and how much we should yield to certain behavioural guidelines. But at times like ours, the tendency is to tilt towards etiquette, since conventions are changing fast and there’s no consensus about them anyway. The risk in following your instincts range from offending someone to sabotaging your own social success.
How can one make a conversation pleasant and professional?
I would follow four basic rules:
- Stop using overused social scripts such as those pertaining to small-talk about the weather; instead, use context cues, which can include anything to do with food or drink; for instance, you can ask if they have tried the new espresso.
- Avoid irrelevant questions and jumping from topic to topic.
- Clean your talk from the 7 Nos: gossip, judging, negativity, complaining, excuses, exaggeration, and dogmatism.
- Show people some love.
What are some of the most common business or social blunders people do nowadays?
That would be face-to-mobile communication instead of face-to-face communication. There’s nothing worse than continuing to talk to someone who is not even looking at you.
How can one politely decline an invitation?
Let the person know whether or not you can accept the invitation as soon as possible. Remember to thank the person for inviting you, and avoid faking excuses. Be honest and don’t over-explain. Try to make it another time, and you can send a gift if it is a ceremony.
Tell us some tips for giving gifts.
Getting a gift for someone you barely know is tricky. Whether it’s a client, a colleague or a manager –it’s safest to stick to office-related things rather than turning to personalised gifts. Timing is another important factor. Sometimes giving a gift before a request or a task may be considered as a bribe or a way to force the person to do something. Generally, you should avoid spending much on someone’s gift because this may embarrass them. The gift should be nicely wrapped, and remember to remove the price tag and include a card, preferably a handmade one.
What are some etiquette manners that romantic partners should bear in mind?
Don’t talk about intimate details when others are around, even your closest friends and family members. It’s never funny sharing things like, “she’s a horrible cook”. It may cause an unexpected embarrassment for the other person. A woman should walk on the man’s right side because it’s the honorary side, or the protective side. When dining, if the table has both a bench and a chair, the lady should always be seated on the comfy bench.
There are also three common dinner date faux pas I’d like to address, these include going to the bathroom after the plates have been cleared, as this gives the impression that you expect your date to pay the bill. Another is continuing to offer to pay the check even after your date assured you that he’ll take care of it; this makes the situation even more awkward. Lastly, splitting the bill is an awful thing to do because this means you don’t want to see that person again.
Do you have experience teaching children these codes of behaviour? Tell us about your experience.
Yes, I was lucky to have the chance to tutor such innocent beautiful souls. It is one of the biggest challenges I have faced, since parents give me the responsibility to fine-tune their children at a crucial stage. Every child deserves the best start in life, and etiquette will give them confidence, enable them to feel comfortable enough to socialise with their classmates, and enhance their ability to be better leaders. Still, parents should know that your child mirrors you; the way you talk, eat, and act.
How would you advise dealing with a negative coworker?
If a coworker’s constant negativity tends to bring everyone down with them, you should not try to fix or change them. Understand them, but don’t let them affect you, and keep your distance. You can also assign them new tasks to find their spark.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your work?
It is always challenging to establish an urban phenomenon as a business. Moreover, faux pas are not acceptable from an etiquette consultant, since you have to maintain your image. The rewarding aspects are when people tell me that I have changed their lives to the better.
- Napkins belong to laps.
- Wipe your mouth before drinking to keep your glass neat.
- If you are confused about which utensil to use, apply the outside-in rule, where you use utensils on the outside first and work your way inward.
- Keep your phone in your pocket.
- Don’t ever take leftovers home with you when on a date or a business dinner.
- Don’t use your toothpick –it is not welcomed at the table.
- Don’t take half bites. Eat all what you have placed on your fork or spoon.
- Don’t push your plate as a way to non-verbally announce that you have finished eating.