2 illustrations from the 1945 edition of Emily Post's Etiquette showing correct table setting and eating

image: illustrations from the 1945 edition of Emily Post's bible of correct behavior Etiquette

|| 14 October 2018

Last Swiss Finishing School

The two images above are illustrations from my 1945 edition of Emily Post's book Etiquette, in those days the bible of correct behavior. The image on the right demonstrates the proper way to butter one’s bread, on a separate bread plate, of course. With a butter spreader, not the knife that you use to cut your meat.

For the image on the left, the caption reads: THE CORRECTLY SET EVERY-DAY LUNCH TABLE. Even when the lady of the house lunches alone, the table in a formally appointed home is set with four places.

These were the sorts of things young ladies learned in finishing schools, a great number of these schools in Switzerland.

Even though I lived in a small town in the center of a wheat-growing region of the central USA, as a teenager, I knew quite a lot about Swiss finishing schools. In the public library, there were two long shelves filled with books of fiction for teenage girls, a great many of these stories set in Swiss finishing schools. Later it occurred to me that the reason so many of these books had this background locale was that many of the authors of these books had attended Swiss finishing schools. They were writing about the only teen life they knew. And perhaps in writing these books enjoying an activity more creatively satisfying than overseeing the servants in table setting and doing the flower arrangements.

Times have changed. A woman always lunching alone at home with three unused places set at the table would probably be encouraged to see a psychiatrist. In any case, there is only one of those Swiss finishing schools still in operation. You can read about it in The New Yorker.

Lessons from the Last Swiss Finishing School

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