She traveled to countries around the world while working for the late King Hussein of Jordan, but it was her one-on-one encounters with his majesty that helped inspire Snezana Pejic to open an etiquette school in Brookline this fall.
Pejic worked as a protocol staffer for the king of Jordan in the early 1990s, guiding dignitaries through the ceremonies and etiquette of affairs of state.
At the time she was in her early 20s, and working as part of a team. But Pejic, who is now 43, still remembers that each time Hussein boarded the royal airplane he took the time to greet everyone individually, and remembered each staff member by name.
“He had treated us all with an amazing depth of empathy, respect, and humility, and that is something that looking back in retrospect now, as a more mature person, I found surprising,” Pejic said.
Her lasting impression of Hussein, who died in 1999 after ruling Jordan for 46 years, is part of what led Pejic to launch the Etiquette Academy of New England, which opened in Brookline Village last month.
The academy, which offers classes for children, teens, and adults, is teaching the basics about table manners, the proper way to meet and greet people, and writing thank you notes.
But besides using the correct fork while dining, Pejic said, her school will place significant focus on interactions with other people.
“For me, etiquette is more than just the rules,” she said. “It is the feeling that you are trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”
Raised in Serbia, Pejic is tall, speaks English with an accent, greets with a warm smile, and is careful to make eye contact when she speaks. After working for Jordan’s king she moved to the United States to study business at Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees before going to work in the corporate world.
She lives in Brookline and has a 7-year-old daughter who attends the Pierce School. Pejic said the sometimes-frustrating struggle of being a parent and having to repeat lessons about etiquette over and over to a youngster also pushed her to open the academy.
“There was really nowhere to turn for what I was trying to do for my daughter,” she said.
Pejic said she spent more than a year developing her idea for an etiquette school, finding investors, and using focus groups to fine-tune her business plan. She’s hired a small team to launch the school in a space at 39 Harvard St.
Courses for younger children include classes on manners, holiday etiquette, and speaking. But Pejic said kids will also learn about how to recognize social cues, and the correct posture to have while conversing with someone. Classes for older teens and adults will include corporate etiquette and interviewing skills.
Some of the lessons designed for “tweens” and teenagers include how to make friends and how to end friendships.
Pejic said learning the boundaries of friendships is important, and teaching a child how to end a friendship when that boundary has been crossed, is a lesson that will stay with them as they get older and start dating.
Pejic said she’s also very proud of her class explaining American etiquette to newcomers to the country.
She said that when she moved here she discovered a whole set of rules that were new to her. Pejic said she had to learn not to “talk with her hands,” making gestures as she speaks, as she was accustomed to doing.
Another big cultural difference, Pejic said, is the subtle way people have friendships in the United States. In other cultures a person may invite a friend to their home for dinner, but in the United States it might be considered too much of a commitment, and meeting over a cup of coffee may be a better idea, she said.
Natives of other countries also have to learn to feel comfortable with American greetings.
“If you come from a culture that bows instead of shakes hands or hugs, that is a huge bridge to build because they don’t feel comfortable with that,” Pejic said.
The academy is offering three-week, five-week, and 15-week courses, and Pejic said she’s hoping to draw students of all ages, since anyone can benefit from knowing the proper etiquette in social settings.
“Being comfortable in social situations is huge,” she said. “It affects our self-esteem, our level of motivation, our level of achievement. It opens opportunities for us.”