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The Art of Etiquette

· etiquette,globalisation,feminism,lifestyle,ecommerce

For many people, etiquette has an old-fashioned connotation that reverts back to the turn of the century when gentlemen wore hats and ladies were supposed to act like ladies, dressed in extravagant attire. However, as the sexual revolution dominated the 1960s and 1970s, education in etiquette soon was set aside in favour of a radical kind of feminism. Etiquette was viewed as a way of behaviour that previously held women back from entering male-dominated professions, prevented women from speaking up about their opinions, and reaffirmed a sort of patriarchal society. “Women who are polite don’t change the world” and “Nice girls don’t get the corner office”, young women were told.

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The sexual revolution of the 1960s rebelled against the tradition of previous eras in which women were prevented from entering male-dominated positions and were regarded primarily by their physical appearance. Etiquette was viewed as a confirmation of patriarchal society.

However, as we enter a new era of multi-national corporations and technological globalisation, etiquette is now transforming the way people connect through each other’s cultures, dining experience, and the common courtesy shown to people within and outside our primary culture.

For contemporary Americans, etiquette is a way of speech, saying “thank you” and “please”, speaking politely to others. For the British, etiquette is a way of behaviour, showing courtesy and being considerate and thoughtful to others, possessing social skills in which they don’t impose upon others or make others feel uncomfortable. For the Japanese and the Scandinavians, a similar courtesy towards others is shown and education about personal space is often accentuated, and one might repeatedly hear “sumimasenn” (すみません: "I’m sorry" in polite form) on Japanese public transport if one accidently moves too close into your personal space, something that rarely happens in places such as New York City, Beijing or Seoul.

A lack of etiquette education in China has even lead the nation to integrate a system called social credit that is set to launch in 2020.  Beijing will give each citizen a social credit rating based on behaviour such as loyalty to their parents, being well behaved in public transport, and not bypassing subway fares, in which violations of these sort will ban people from receiving loans, jobs and prevented from air travel. Totalitarian in its scope, this system has been criticised as implementing an artificial kind of morality that will be dictated onto a population of 1.4 billion people which could potentially become utilised as a tool to blacklist innocent people.

In an episode called Nosedive in Black Mirror (S3 E1, 2016), social credit ratings lead to a character's obsession with popularity that eventually leads to acts of desperation. The satirical episode highlights how a social credit rating system can backfire on populations. China will be implementing a similar social credit rating system in 2020.

However, as China moves closer towards a global world power, this presents a unique opportunity for American and British e-Commerce and lifestyle companies to expand into China, South Korea and North Korea to propagate a new type of etiquette education, one that is global in scope, and takes the best parts of the past era of gentlemen whilst incorporating a new, revitalised feminist education that eradicates the misandry present in previous generations.

10-12 day courses cost around $13,000 - $16,000 ( £9,336 - £11,490) at the Institute Sarita Etiquette in China. Ladies learn how to use cutlery, dine and learn about art, aesthetics, pairing wines, making conversation and pronouncing the names of luxury brands.

It used to be that luxury brands sales had dominated cities such as Paris and London, but now, as new billionaires and multi-millionaires crop up in China at a rapid pace, Chinese customers make up 32% of the worldwide luxury sales market estimated at €262 billion. Luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Kering and Burberry are dependent on the demand coming from China.

Whilst institutions such as Sarita offer etiquette courses for a hefty sum in a short period of time, American and British lifestyle startups have the unique vantage point of being able to offer these sorts of courses via an ongoing subscription base in which courses could be offered both online and through workshops.

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Goop Mrkt pop-up shop during the winter holiday in 2015 at Columbus Circle, New York City.

Goop is a US based eCommerce and lifestyle startup founded by Gwyneth Paltrow that has recently received $50 million in series C funding for international expansion.

Known for its quirky items such as jade eggs and focus on alternative medicine, the lifestyle brand highlights natural beauty, travel, luxury brands and topics in women’s health. Goop also sells its own brand of natural fragrances and staple wardrobe items that focuses on high quality fabrics. In addition to weekly podcasts and cookery videos, Goop could integrate etiquette education as part of its subscription base that could appeal to a wide demographic in China.

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Samantha Cameron, founder of the fashion brand Cefinn and wife of former Prime Minister David Cameron.

In a similar manner, Samantha Cameron, who is the wife of former Prime Minister David Cameron, has recently launched her own fashion label called Cefinn. Known as the lady who didn’t wear a hat by breaking with tradition at the wedding of Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton, she is recognised for her frugal but feminine and elegant style. However, Mrs. Cameron has a distinctive advantage in that as the wife of the former Prime Minister, she has had experience meeting and dining with political leaders around the world, and could potentially become a leading style and etiquette expert to women in China who are avid to learn from a woman who must surely have many anecdotes and stories to tell, not only about the particular habits and personalities about political leaders, but also about her travels, decoration and remodeling tips; and also raising children. Although her style of clothes might not particularly appeal to all women, many more women would want to gain knowledge from her experiences, and as the etiquette educational market is expanding in China, South Korea and possibly also North Korea (as peace could possibly be just around the corner) this presents an opportunity for Mrs. Cameron to utilise her soft power, by propagating British influence into nations in which an education in etiquette has not existed until recently.

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Jackie Kennedy was the first to break tradition with the past by inviting a television crew to a tour of the White House and by wearing a strapless dress that revealed her bare shoulders in formal state dinners with political leaders around the world in the early 1960s. Her break with etiquette represented a young, emerging America contrasted by Old European values.

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Both Michelle Obama and Ivanka Trump followed the Jackie Kennedy example by breaking from formal dress attire in which a tacit rule exists to cover up one’s shoulders in meetings and dinners with world leaders.

For most people, there is nothing duller than having to read a book on manners or etiquette written in a style of language that is a reminder of the era of oppressed women. As American families spend less time with their children in a lifestyle increasingly dominated by their careers, and with a growing demand in China, an education in etiquette seems to be making a comeback in an expansive, international atmosphere of business in which isolationism of the Cold War era no longer applies. Etiquette no longer represents the symbol of the oppression of women in previous eras and instead, can be an enlightening discourse into the exploration of other cultures by simply showing common courtesy and respect for our fellow colleagues and human beings. Lifestyle brand leaders, as well as emerging fashion brands can exert their soft power in nations such as China and South Korea by portraying a new era of feminism and etiquette that could influence a new generation of men and women around the world.