"Never hold your pinkie out, always inside," instructs Alexandra Messervy, a former member of the British Royal Household to Queen Elizabeth II.
The etiquette guru paid a flying visit to the UAE to launch the Middle East arm of her consultancy The English Manner, first established in the UK more than a decade ago. Messervy's team in Dubai will impart pearls of social wisdom to students and C-level executives alike, via personalised protocol sessions covering everything from corporate conduct to deportment and dining.
"When drinking tea you should hold the cup and saucer; with coffee, you can leave the saucer on the table," she instructs. "And the correct way for ladies to sit is with a very straight back; knees and ankles together."
When it comes to social skills, Messervy is a firm believer in cultural intelligence, especially in the Gulf region. She recommends thorough research before travelling to a foreign business or social event, not least for women where conventions may differ greatly from their home country.
"Try to remember that in the main, in countries like Saudi and Kuwait, gentlemen may prefer to introduce themselves to you first," she says. "It's the same with India; men will never open doors for women or allow them go to in front of them, for example.
"That can be difficult, particularly in these days of equality, but the main thing is to act with grace and not look hurt. If you smile and extricate yourself from the situation, no one will think any less of you."
Should you unexpectedly find yourself in regal company - don't panic, says Messervy, just be mindful of the following.
"You should never turn your back on a member of royalty," she says, pointing out that exiting a room backwards is good form. "And speak when spoken to - always wait to be addressed, and that almost applies to someone senior in any organisation."
Equally valuable is her advice for ladies pondering the most ladylike way to enter and exit a car. The age old finishing school rule of "knees together, swivel, legs out and stand" should apply wherever possible, concedes Messervy, but might need some updating.
"The idea is not to show any flesh," she says. "But it's hard, especially with 4x4s now. We all leap into them and there's a risk of having to hitch up the skirt. And when they have steps, it can be even worse!"
Did you know?
"Smart casual" traditionally means "no denim"
If a party starts at 7pm, it is acceptable to be 10-15 mins late
You should avoid talking about money, health, religion or politics with new people
A gentleman always pays on the first date, regardless of who initiated it
Children 3 or 4 years old can be introduced to a formal restaurant
Do not hold your knife like a pen
Do hold soup and pudding spoons like a pen
Never let the handles of your knife and fork rest on the table
Place your utensils in a V shape to indicate you are still eating
Position your cutlery at 6 o'clock when you have finished your meal
How to complain
Try to avoid making a scene
Call the waiter to one side
Tell them quietly and calmly what's wrong
Keep your voice light
Look them straight in the eye
For more information go to www.theenglishmanner.ae