While we spend the current moment keeping ourselves and our communities safe and healthy by social distancing, it just may be the perfect time to pick up a few new skills—or refine your old ones. So if you're working from home with kids in tow, read them a book with a purpose, such as Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece's Manners Begin at Breakfast.
There is no question that Marie-Chantal—the ultra-social, well-coiffed uptown doyenne and wife of Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece—is an arbiter of good taste, especially when it comes to raising a family. As a mother of five, she’s had practice, and her eponymous collection of luxury children’s clothing strikes a balance of style and practicality that you won't find at your local Baby Gap. Now, with the help of renowned pediatrician Dr. Perri Klass, illustrator Lydia Starkey, and fellow supermom Tory Burch, Marie-Chantal has penned Manners Begin at Breakfast, a modern guide for parents to pass along the oft-overlooked art of etiquette.
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“Our kids eventually become us, and they pick up everything, for better or for worse,” Marie-Chantal, wearing a cozy sweater and a long pleated skirt, explains as we sit in her pastel-inflected office on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a space dotted with children’s mannequins. “So, why not do it for the better, and take time to invest in your kids, and start slow at the very beginning of every day?”
Inside the etiquette book, readers will find plenty of classic table manners like utensil use and elbow placement—they should never be on top of the table, but your forearms can rest on the edge if the situation calls for it. But what sets Marie-Chantal apart from Emily Post is a uniquely forgiving take on modern conveniences, like social media posting (which should be done sparingly and with approval from all parties), proper email formatting, and the omnipresent mobile phone and tablet.
“This is not a book to pontificate at all,” she claims. “There are times when, yes, you have to lean on technology, but I hate nothing more than going to a restaurant and seeing a mother and her kids who bring in the full iPad. Sure, they’re having quality time together, but the child is literally glued to a movie in a fancy restaurant.”
With an education that saw her traipsing from Hong Kong to Switzerland to Paris to New York, Marie-Chantal has filled her etiquette book with lessons that also offer an element of worldliness, from the proper way to use utensils in Chile, where even the most obvious of finger foods should be handled with a fork, to the requirement of a swimming cap in China.
Serving oneself coffee or tea from a butler’s tray is up for discussion, too, thanks to a particularly nerve-racking moment experienced by Marie-Chantal during a dinner alongside the Queen of England and Prince Philip at Windsor Castle. “You put your sugar and cream in first, before your coffee, and I found out much later that it’s a practice from the Second World War so you don’t stain your china,” she explains.
But even if you won’t be rubbing elbows with royalty, Marie-Chantal argues that there is indeed an irrefutable value to good manners. “It opens doors from a young age, and it’s not a socioeconomic thing at all,” she says. “Manners cost nothing.”