Congratulations are in order for Susan Calender, our Corporate Etiquette Certification Graduate on being featured in The Boston Globe this month! We are so proud of her accomplishments and wish her all the best with her company, Oh My Gauche!
April 2, 2011 | By Lisa Weisstuch, Globe Correspondent
WESTON — It wasn’t lunch time, but first- and second-graders at the Meadowbrook School were sitting around a table that was set for a formal meal. • “Before we touch our water, what’s the first thing we do?’’ asked Susan Callender, who sat with rod-straight posture at the head of the table, a meticulously fashioned ringlet framing her face. • Emily Grape, 8, shot her hand up. “Put our napkin on our lap,’’ she said. Callender gave an emphatic “yes’’ and the students unfolded their napkins.
Callender’s mission, however, goes beyond making sure the world knows which fork to use for the salad course. Manners, to hear her tell it, are simply manifestations of self-respect and, by extension, respect for others. Through her firm, Oh My Gauche!, founded in 2008, Callender teaches etiquette classes for children and corporate executives alike; as she sees it, the more people perfect their manners, the more civilized day-to-day life could be.
And it doesn’t hurt one’s chances at success either.
“Any time two people come together, manners come into play,’’ said Callender. “Manners are a way of showing people they matter to you,’’ she said. “It’s not about you as an individual, it’s about how you appear to others, even a cashier in a grocery store. Social skills make the best impression and in, the end, that’s what gets you ahead.’’
Callender dreamed up Oh My Gauche! while she was operating Boston Unique Events, a full-service catering and event planning company she owned from 1989 to 2010. Over the years, she’d seen it all. Guests misbehaving at weddings. Stunning rudeness at formal events. Corporate hosts failing to be gracious to all their guests and instead focusing on a single VIP all evening. She knew she had a lot of work to do.
In 2008, she took part in an intensive five-day etiquette certification training program at the American School of Protocol in Atlanta. “I went to the school to hone a craft and learn a business like anyone would go through an intensive business program,’’ she said. “This wasn’t something I was going to approach like a hobby. Not only do you learn about etiquette there, you learn how to teach it from everyone from image consultants to public speaking experts.’’
It’s safe to say that Callender found a kindred spirit in Peggy Newfield, the protocol organization’s founder and director.
“People are concerned about where the US is going today. Young people don’t know how to communicate,’’ said Newfield. “Look up ‘civility,’ and it means a courteous act or utterance from one to another. When is the last time you can remember that courtesy was extended in a society? It was 9-11. Strangers were stopping cars and asking, ‘Can I let you in?’ ’’
But no one needs an etiquette instructor to point out that a deficit of civility (and proper behavior) can have troublesome, even tragic, results. There are the innumerable mini scandals involving both improper behavior and poor manners, such as when Representative Christopher Lee of New York allegedly sent shirtless photos of himself to a woman he’d met on Craigslist, photos that swiftly went viral. Just as swiftly, Lee — married with a small child — resigned his seat in Congress.
But there are obviously more far-reaching effects as well. The heartbreaking consequences of bullying in schools. The angry, aggressive tenor of political discourse. In his memorial speech for the victims of the shootings in Tucson, President Obama said “only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make [the victims] proud.’’
Yet when Mark DeMoss, a conservative who heads a public relations firm in Atlanta, attempted to rally support from governors and members of Congress for the Civility Project, a pledge to be civil in public discourse, he got nowhere. DeMoss gave up in January after just three congressmen signed on over the course of his two-year effort.
The skills Callender teaches are integral to the business world, says James Post, professor of management in the Boston University School of Management, who works it into the curriculum for the graduate honors program he oversees.
“We spend a lot of time with students in the classroom building their knowledge,’’ said Post, “but they still need to be able to communicate and project themselves as professional, dress appropriately, and sit at a luncheon or a meeting and be able to project what used to be called ‘social graces,’ but today we’d call them social skills for interacting with other people.’’
Callender was raised in Dorchester and attended Swampscott High School. Her mother, an administrative assistant, saw to it that dining with the family in restaurants was as routine as doing homework. To this day, Callender attributes her appreciation for manners to the regular meals out with her parents and three siblings everywhere from the now shuttered Valle’s Steakhouse on Route 9 to the finest restaurants in Montreal, her mother’s hometown.
After graduating from UMass-Amherst with a degree in Hotel and Travel Management, she worked in catering at a four-star hotel and at the Hynes Convention Center, where she learned the ins and outs of high-volume hospitality and service. She later founded Boston Unique Events.
Deborah Burwick, employment specialist at Jewish Vocational Service, brought Callender in to work with students in the agency’s Culinary Arts Training program.
“The students have learned skills that help them become more employable,’’ she said. “She’s focused on manners, but that extends beyond yourself to what you do to others in world. If you present yourself in a positive manner each day, you can make another person’s world better when they see you in that light.’’
Callender is currently working on programs for professional athletes to understand the importance of a player’s public image.
“Bad behavior in professional sports is celebrated,’’ she said. “We’re raised in a culture where achievements are lauded at a young age, and athletes are brought into a privileged environment where they’re put on a pedestal even if they behave like thugs. It’s in their best interest to learn social skills because the finer point of self-presentation can ultimately make or break them.’’