Marie-Catherine Bearden has lived a thousand lives in Morroco, Sudan, Belgium and the states with her ex-CIA agent husband. Now, Bearden is teaching which fork to use at dinner to her students in Austin.
“There were all kinds of rules,” Bearden said. “The CIA certainly had a lot of rules. By the time I met my husband he was a senior officer so I happened to be dining with presidents, some leaders.”
Now, she is settled in Austin where she teaches French at UT and recently founded a program to teach etiquette to youth — l’Academie de l’Etiquette. Her etiquette business, which she began in October 2015, offers a range of classes, from etiquette for younger children to manners for adults seeking to find a job or impress an employer.
“Parents don’t teach (their children) as much as they did 30 or 40 years ago to be good at etiquette,” Bearden said. “The world has become more casual, but more and more interviews are done around a table. They really look at you if you know how to handle yourself.”
Carl Koehler, a finance and French senior, who recently attended a French business etiquette lecture by Bearden, said he believes it is crucial for students to learn etiquette because of the impact it can have on their futures.
“The interviewer wants to see how you will conduct yourself in front of clients,” Koehler said. “If you give off any indication that you are ill-mannered or dress sloppily, it sets a bad tone for a job interview.”
Bearden said the idea for an etiquette school came to her years ago when she was in Europe. But it wasn’t until she came to Texas and met students who she observed already practiced proper manners in their daily lives that she decided this was the place to make her dream a reality.
“When I came here I didn’t know much about southern hospitality,” Bearden said. “But, to have students who say, ‘Yes ma’am,’ or ‘No, ma’am’ when I give a paper back and say, ‘Thank you,’ in French or in English, it is just overwhelming, beautiful.”
Bearden said she wants to help her students expand their understanding about cultural and behavioral constructs in America and around the world. Bearden said this information is important for conducting business.
“One time in Lebanon we had to meet Hamas leaders (who) were in hiding,” Bearden said. “I was behind my husband because the culture demands it, and (as) I go to shake his hand, one of the leaders was very polite, but he just did not want to shake my hand. That was missing from my repertoire of etiquette.”
Sophia Molak, an international relations and global studies freshman who attended the lecture, said she found the etiquette lesson very applicable to what she wants to do in the future.
“There are a lot of customs that are almost subconscious that we kind of take for granted,” Molak said. “In the United States, it is very common to shake someone’s hand with three shakes. In France, a handshake is more brief. So, it could make a French person uncomfortable if you are holding someone’s hand for that long.”
Bearden said learning etiquette, whether it be American rules or international ones, is a practice that must be perfected through practice. But in the end, it is the finer details that count.
“There is elegance in simplicity,” Bearden said. “You can be dressed in any way, shape or form, but if you know that it is proper, that is it.”