Yesterday I addressed the WA Division of the Home Economics Institute of Australia during their World Home Economics Day Afternoon Tea, on the subject of the Origin and Etiquette of Afternoon Tea.
I thoroughly enjoyed researching the subject, which has been a favourite of mine for many years. Afternoon tea, or High Tea as it is regularly marketed, is making a huge resurgence in Australia and many of the hotels and restaurants offer it as a glamorous and gracious respite particularly on a Sunday afternoon. The function I attended was held in a private dining room at The George in Perth.The George
The Royal Room at The George (photo the author)
I discussed the emergence of the tea trade in Britain from the 1660’s; the development of porcelain manufacture in England; the revolution against the tea tax which resulted in the Boston Tea Party in America; the rise of more democratic tea houses; the emergence of Afternoon Tea as a gracious ladies function from 1840 with Anna, the Duchess of Bedford; leading to the resurgence of High Tea in the present, often complemented at the end of the meal with a glass of champagne.
One of my numerous, eclectic etiquette book collection
It was a delightful afternoon and after my presentation I had some interesting discussions about the role of Home Economics in the Secondary Schools of Australia today.
There is ongoing discussion in the media and elsewhere about the role of manners in the young people of today. I am regularly asked if they are less well mannered now. My answer is that they can only be as well mannered as they are taught to be; while also being taught to be considerate of those around them. And that manners evolve. The appropriate manners for today which include the etiquette of the mobile phone, texting, and social media, particularly Facebook, were unheard of even 15 years ago.
The discussion, which often focusses on whether this role should be part of the schools’ responsibilities, or that of the home has been going on for years. Manners at School?
I was particularly interested to learn yesterday how the boys in the classes responded to the subjects of cooking, life skills, textiles and more having read an article in a paper last week which discussed the role of life skills for boys at a school where they were taught how to iron, cook, and generally appreciate the role of the “soft skills” in their overall development .Life Skills for Boys
A few years ago I used to present to groups of Year 10 boys, average age 15 years and therefore “interesting”, about Modern Manners at Christ Church Grammar School here in Perth. The time allotted was from 1.15-3.15 on a Friday afternoon…unkind for the presenter as the boys were straining to leave for their weekends! Because I also had a regular radio spot on the Friday mornings I was able to ask the boys to be kind to me so that I didn’t have to strain my voice. They occasionally complied.
I always prefaced my presentation by telling them that the main aim of my conversation with them was to give them confidence. Concepts such as courtesy and manners were regarded as necessary evils by the boys until I put them in the context of part time job applications…and dating…then on the whole I had their full attention.
Surprisingly, for me, it was when the discussion turned to table manners, of all cultural persuasions, that the boys really became interested and asked questions, countered each other’s answers and offered me suggestions for polite eating habits at fast food outlets!
Some of these same boys, young men now, have contacted me over the years as they are about to leave university, to get tips on the etiquette and manners required for job interviews and entrance to the more formal workplace. It is such a pleasure to hear from them: “Ms Percy, you spoke at my school a few years ago. May I have an appointment with you to go through a few things? I have an important job interview next week”. Perhaps the Friday afternoon time slot was not so bad after all!
Delicious afternoon tea (photo the author)
I was interested to speak to the Home Economics teachers yesterday about the skills they impart to their students, many of which we of the older generations would consider basics: washing, ironing, cooking, laying a table etc. Obviously in the lifestyles of their parents these skills are not necessarily the ones they pass on. As one teacher commented, many parents are so busy these days, they outsource the tasks of laundry and cleaning and so the children do not have the opportunity to learn them in the home.
Today, when the sense of family and community is so diminished, when children are not often given the opportunity to engage with their grandparents, and older mentors, for example, who exemplified the era when the basic life skills were essential, perhaps this role in the schools should not be seen as an elective one, but rather a vital one.