Ever since his grandmother presented him with a guidebook on etiquette when he was 12, William Hanson has been obsessed with the subject.
Now, at the age of 24, he has emerged as one of the UK’s most respected authorities on how to behave with perfect poise and politeness in social situations.
As well as being a regular guest on TV talk shows, he also worked as a consultant on the hugely popular costume drama Downton Abbey.
His main livelihood, however, is working as a senior tutor for The English Manner, an etiquette consultancy firm founded by Alexandra Messervy, who formerly worked in the royal household of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II.
In February, the company launched its Middle East Academy in Dubai to educate people in this region about the art of behaving courteously. And this will be the topic of the Gentleman’s Etiquette Workshop he’s hosting on Saturday. Beforehand, we spoke to him about what he hopes to impart to the attendees.
Manners maketh the man
Hanson believes that maintaining a polite demeanour is incredibly important if one is to win over new acquaintances.
“We’ve become a very selfish society, while good manners really are selfless. They’re about other people and putting people at ease, respecting others and respecting yourself,” he says. “If you’re well mannered, it immediately puts people at ease.”
With intense competition in the jobs market, he believes his techniques give one a distinct advantage over rivals. “In job interviews, it all comes down to your presence and your gravitas. If one knows how to conduct oneself properly, it will definitely give you the edge over your competitors.”
There are, however, many who have prospered in life by being incredibly discourteous to others. Hanson says he abhors people who act like this.
“Of course you have people like Gordon Ramsay, who expressly tries to be rude and brash, or Kim Kardashian, who obviously believes her wealth entitles her to behave how she likes,” he says.
“I do feel celebrities need to be careful how they come across, because they do set an example to younger, impressionable people.”
There is one famous couple whom Hanson cites as an ideal role model.
“Thank God we now have the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who are young, good-looking, charismatic, but, most of all, polite. Thankfully, they are setting a good example to the young -generation.”
Etiquette in the Emirates
Hanson believes the people of the UAE are, on the whole, well behaved.
“In Dubai, you have so many different cultures living there, in some respects it’s a very polite, tolerant society. Everyone learns from each other,” he says.
He does cede that there is one exception to this rule.
“I’ve noticed that people are not as hot on queuing as they are in England and America,” he says.
“Maybe the UAE should look to other countries for queuing. It’s a very democratic system. Standing in a nice, orderly line takes the stress out of the situation and is totally fair.”
Hanson admits that there are vast swathes of society who won’t be interested in bettering their manners and these people are probably most urgently in need of his tuition.
“Generally on our courses, we get nice people who want to be nicer,” he quips.
“Sadly, the people who we really need to teach some manners to – your Gordon Ramsays or Kim Kardashians of this world – they are not interested in the first place.”
First, Hanson stresses the importance of a firm (but not knuckle-crushing) handshake.
He also advocates sending thank you letters – not emails or text messages – to people one has met or conducted business with.
But, most importantly, he says everyone should totally avoid fiddling with smartphones while conversing person-to-person.
“Mobile phones are the bane of my life,” he declares. “I love my mobile, but I know when I’m at a business meeting or a dinner, it’s switched off in my pocket.
“I’m not going to talk to my Twitter followers or Facebook friends, because these people in front of me have bothered to come and meet me face-to-face.”
The Essential Gentleman's Etiquette Workshop takes place at the Ritz-Carlton Dubai hotel on Saturday. The course costs Dh1,300. Visit www.theenglishmanner.ae for details
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