Last Swiss finishing school - not just for women anymore

Fri Oct 25, 2013 9:40am EDT
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By Emma Farge

GLION, Switzerland (Reuters) - The sign on the door with a stick figure of a man overlaid with a big "X" will have to go now that the last Swiss finishing school, bending to economic reality and social change, is accepting men.

The Institut Villa Pierrefeu, located on a hill above Lake Geneva, is the last in a line of institutions that struggled to shake their image as "schools for princesses" after Diana Spencer, who later became Lady Diana, attended one in the same canton.

In their heyday before feminism stirred in the 1960s, European aristocrats sent their daughters to finishing schools in safe, neutral Switzerland to polish their manners and prepare them for married life.

About half a dozen such schools once flourished in the French-speaking Alps, but the others have closed as young women have instead chosen to attend university and pursue careers.

Now part of the demand for the last surviving school is coming from a very different segment of the population - men.

"Men are starting to realize that like it or not, we are also judged by our manners," Philippe Neri, who is the grandson of the school's founder and was dressed in dark suit and pink tie, told Reuters during a recent visit to the school.

He recalled how he once witnessed a deal in a restaurant collapse after a Western man offered his Japanese business partner a Swiss army knife as a gift.

"It was clear that the Japanese man thought the message was that the other wanted to cut off ties. The atmosphere went cold," he said.   Continued...

Guillaume, a French student takes part in a conversation role during a session on English dining during the Intensive Etiquette Courses at the Institut Villa Pierrefeu in Glion near Montreux, western Switzerland, October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse