With Western brands flooding the high streets of cities throughout China, business between China and the West is at an all-time high. Every Western business wants a piece of China – and every Chinese person wants a piece of the West. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese teenagers head to English-speaking countries each summer for lessons, with reports there are even more people studying English in China than in the US. Now, a company in Beijing is trying to teach Western manners to Chinese people by opening a finishing school aimed primarily at adult females.
The Institute Sarita is the brainchild of Sara Jane Ho. Schooled at the prestigious Harvard Business School, Ho then attended Institut Villa Pierrefeu, a traditional Swiss finishing school, which served as the inspiration for bringing the concept of finishing schools to China. As Ho says on the institute’s website, ‘Everyone needs to study etiquette… etiquette should not divide culture or classes, but rather bring people together.’
While etiquette may help to bring people together and promote equality, the costs of the course are prohibitive. Classes are small and the prices range from CNY68,200–CNY857,912 (£8,000–£10,000/$99,790–$124,741) for a 10- or 12-day course. The two most popular courses are ‘hostess’ courses, which are aimed at married women, and ‘debutante’, aimed at unmarried women.
On the hostess course, students can expect to learn topics such as the behaviour and customs expected in the highest echelons of society around the world; the art of European dining; table conversation, table decoration and wine appreciation.
A two-way street
Of course, the study of other cultures is not a one-way street. Many Western entrepreneurs seeking to make inroads into China also need to master the local customs and cultures. For every Chinese debutante who has mistakenly eaten her dessert with the soup spoon, there’s a Western businessman who has lost out on the deal of a lifetime by scattering rice across the tablecloth with his errant chopstick technique. Because of this, the Institute Sarita also offer courses on Chinese etiquette to Westerners.
Invaluable topics covered include greetings; introductions and taking leave; precedence and table seating; the art of building a business network (known as ‘guanxi’ in Chinese); Chinese table manners and toasting; and Chinese psychology and non-verbal communication.
The Institute also tackles probably the most difficult aspect of understanding Chinese psychology: the concept of face. Keeping face, saving face and never, ever causing a potential business contact to lose face.
Ladies who enterprise
The Institute Sarita is steadily growing since it first opened its doors. The school now has premises in both Beijing and Shanghai, and both Ho and its president, Rebecca Li, have had books published – Ho penned Finishing Touch: Good Manners for the Debutante and Li scribed Elegant Hostess: Good Manners for the Lady of the House.
As pioneers in their field of business, these enterprising ladies have hit on a genuine niche market – and although Institute Sarita’s current exclusivity ensures a limited appeal to the super-rich who can afford it, no one could argue that the company’s basic premise isn’t rock solid.
As the success of this venture proves, if you want to make connections in another country and culture, then you need to do a bit of study. As the ties between the West and China become evermore entwined, it would appear that this message is going to become more and more relevant.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.