In a time when the Internet and personal devices have corrupted social interactions as we once knew them, Janet Parnes may have the antidote.
With her classes, workshops, and events on manners and social behavior, etiquette expert Parnes teaches people of all ages how to shake hands, introduce others, engage in a conversation, and nail an interview.
“Many manners are rooted in common sense,” she said, challenging the stigma that etiquette is a set of strict “rules.” Keeping your mouth closed when chewing, holding a door open for the person behind you so that it does not slam back in their face, and repeating someone’s name after being introduced to help you remember it are all etiquette skills with a practical purpose.
Parnes, a Millis resident, began her foray into social skills after throwing a tea party for a friend’s daughter. She began developing characters and performances geared toward children, using history, turn-of-the-century paraphernalia, and—inherently—etiquette all woven in.
“Mothers would come up to me at parties and ask if I knew anyone who taught etiquette for children,” Parnes said. “I began to think that that should be me.”
After completing etiquette training at the Protocol School in Washington, Parnes now offers classes and workshops for various age groups in which she teaches skills like eye contact, handshakes, introductions, dining skills, and respecting others’ privacy. She peppers the workshops for younger children with her character portrayals and props to keep kids engaged.
“When you involve them in the process, they respond,” she said, adding that she has been surprised by how receptive kids are of the material. She laughs when she recalls one father who brought his children to one of her workshops as a punishment. “It turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening,” she recalled.
For those who may be skeptical of the uppity connotations “etiquette” may invoke, Parnes says not to fear.
“People think you can’t be casual and polite at the same time,” she said, but she shows her students how they can work these skills into everyday life and encourages them to practice so the manners come more naturally. When people know how to act, she says, shyness and awkward tendencies melt away.
In her interview workshops for college students and adults, Parnes bases one lesson—where to place a cup of coffee during the interview—on a personal experience when she knocked over coffee in front of a potential employer. She said people often just don’t pay attention to the little details.
“We’re in a world today where there are hundreds of people vying for a certain job,” she said. In addition to your work experience, “it’s these soft skills that can make or break your success.”
This weekend, Parnes is offering a cruise-themed workshop for children ages 8 to 11 at Dabblers hobbies+café in West Concord that will focus on teaching social skills kids can use to act confidently and considerately around others. As passengers on a boat, children will introduce themselves to each other and the adults on board, develop table manners and conversation skills over snacks, and hear about rude passengers to help them steer clear of certain behaviors.
Parnes will act as a woman who traveled on the Titanic as a young girl, weaving in posters, role playing, and Titanic-era props to encourage students’ participation.
Limited to 12 students to ensure individual attention, the class will run from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21. The price is $59 per child, with a 10 percent discount for a second family member. To register, visit dabblersconcord.com or call Dabblers at 978-254-5798.
And on Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon, Parnes invites children ages 4 to 8 to Music Movement and More in Holliston for a royal tea party with “Lady J.” The princesses and knights will learn to introduce themselves and practice basic table manners while eating treats, hearing tea-party tales, and playing games. The price is $20 per child; register by calling Parnes at 866-376-1110 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Franzini can be reached at email@example.com.