She once bought the Queen’s Christmas presents, arranged lunches for American presidents and planned the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York, Fergie and Prince Andrew. So if there’s one woman who has an inside track to the Royal Family, it’s Alexandra Messervy.The 49-year-old Brit worked for the Master of the Household at Buckingham Palace in the 1980s and went on to become private secretary to Prince Michael of Kent (the Queen’s cousin) before consulting on all things proper for the famous Lucie Clayton Finishing School where posh gals like actress Joanna Lumley went.
She is now opening a new branch of her etiquette academy, The English Manner in Dubai to teach the Middle East everything from how to give a proper handshake, to the secrets of running a household the scale of Downton Abbey. And she fully expects some girls who sign up to her courses to be dreaming of following in the Duchess of Cambridge’s LK Bennett pumps, just like Ahlan!
“What little girl doesn’t want to be a princess?” she laughs. And while Wills might be off the market, there are plenty of other princes left. But, if one has any chance of marrying one, one must know things like which knife and fork to use, and which vino glass to raise, right? So, Ahlan! asks Alexandra what she thinks of our etiquette during our interview. And what she has to say is not good.
“You should have your hair up for a formal meeting or event,” she says, noting our unruly locks. Oh dear. “And think about dress length,” she says, looking disapprovingly at our H&M frock, which has ridden up above our knees. Fail. “Make sure your nail polish is pristine,” she continues, as we try to hide our chipped Shellac. “And I would always wear stockings or tights,” she says. Well, at least we shaved our legs. But there’s more, “And no open-toed shoes.” We knew we should have worn Louboutins today! And with that, our Blackberry rings, which Alexandra has already told us is “disgraceful” during a meeting, when one must switch off one’s phone. Oh dear! Well, if I’m ever to become Princess Swainy, I think I need some help! Here are Alexandra’s top etiquette tips.
1 Shaking Hands
“Extend your right arm with a very slight bend at the elbow, and shake once or twice only,” recommends Alexandra. “Don’t put your other hand on the person’s arm – that is considered very American.”
2 Social Kissing on the Cheek
Always a nightmare as Ahlan! never knows how many to do! Alexandra says, “Once is the most acceptable, but the Continentals do it twice, though in the Middle East you’ve got to do three. If you think it’s going to happen, then you take the lead.”
“Always introduce senior people to junior people, not the other way around. Be precise and give people a bit of background so they’ve got a conversation point,” recommends Alexandra.
4 Remembering Names
“When you are introduced to somebody, say their name a couple of times,” says Alexandra. “If you have an opportunity and somebody gives you a business card, scribble down whatever way you can think of to remind you of them on it when you are on your own.” Good call!
If it’s a formal invitation one must reply in the third person, Alexandra says. You need to reply promptly, too. Email is fine but address it properly. “Don’t write ‘hi’ to somebody you’ve never met,” says Alexandra.
6 Table talk
“If you’re at a function where people have bad table manners it’s so obvious straight away,” says Alexandra, who recommends, “When dining, simply use the cutlery from the outside in.” Never put your elbows on the table, and leaving your napkin on the table means you’ve finished, while leaving it on the chair means you’re coming back. During afternoon tea, the sweet treat is pronounced ‘scon’ not ‘scone’ and you should break it like a bread roll, not cut it. You should put the cream on first, then the jam. When you’ve finished eating, put your knife and fork together at the ‘six o’clock’ position. The blade of the knife should be facing inwards. Now we know!
“Look at the protocol for the country!” begs Alexandra. “UK is 10 per cent, US 15 to 20 per cent, the UAE typically 10 to 15 per cent. Don’t tip in China as it’s seen as condescending!”
8 Meeting the Royal Family
Should one ever come face-to-face with The Queen, you must curtsy. But how? Alexandra, says, “When curtsying, a little bob is absolutely fine, and bow your head. If you’re a man, just bow your head from the neck. You never speak until you’re spoken to. If it’s the Queen you say ‘Your Majesty’ and thereafter you say ‘Ma’am’.” Bump in to Harry in Boujis? You must call him ‘Your Royal Highness’.
Watch Alexandra demonstrate the right way to curtsy right here!
9 Business Cards
Did you know you should never offer your card unless asked for it? It’s terrible etiquette. Alexandra, says, “In Asia they will present their cards to you, and always present yours face up and look at theirs as you’re given it. If you don’t, it’s like you’re tossing it aside.”
10 Mobile phones
The constant checking while you’re in a meeting is disgraceful, according to Alexandra. She says, “It’s telling your host that you couldn’t care less about their time being valuable. If you’re expecting an important call, tell the person you’re with beforehand. Put it on vibrate if you must have it on. Never have it audible and don’t keep checking messages.”
INFO: The English Manner will start classes in April starting from Dhs1,300, 050 850 8459, www.theenglishmanner.ae.