Etiquette guru in mission to mend China's manners

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The Independent Online

It's a brave person who thinks they can change the behaviour of an entire nation, but that's what June Yamada is trying to do. Outraged by the bad manners and rudeness that she encountered when she moved to Shanghai, the etiquette and style expert has embarked on a crusade to introduce the Chinese to a world of refinement.

Some would say Ms Yamada has taken on a Herculean task, given the fondness of the Chinese for hawking and spitting in public, queue-barging, pushing their way on and off buses and trains and spitting out bones on restaurant floors. Then there's the fact that "please" and "thank you" are the least-used words in the Chinese language.

So ingrained are these behavioural quirks that the mayor of Beijing, Wang Qishan, believes the hardest part of preparing to host the 2008 Olympics will be improving the manners of its residents: "I really worry whether the audience will stand up when the national anthem of another country is played, or whether Chinese athletes will be greeted with applause if they lose."

Born in Tokyo and educated in Los Angeles, Ms Yamada worked as a fashion consultant to moguls and movie stars before coming to Shanghai. One of her clients was Sean Connery. "On the screen he looks very nice," she says, "but in daily life he's a bit of a slob, so I tidied him up a bit." Ridding the Chinese of their bad habits may not be so easy. But the petite and stylish fortysomething promises that anyone who completes her course on table manners at the June Yamada Academy will be "ready to dine with Queen Elizabeth II". "Absolutely. You'll learn how to dress properly, how to say 'thank you' when you're escorted into the room, how to sit correctly. There are a lot of things to learn before we get around to teaching them how to cut their meat," she says.

"I think the lack of table manners is the worst thing. It was very mysterious to me at first, because I come from Japan, which is probably the politest nation in the world. I wondered why we were so different."

Now, after four years of living in China, Ms Yamada believes she has the answer. "For the past 5,000 years, China has been a peasant culture," she states flatly. "When the Chinese don't say 'please' or 'thank you', it's because they've been too busy trying to find a bowl of rice to eat."

But with China's economy booming, and an ever-increasing urban middle class, Ms Yamada has had no shortage of students willing to pay up to 990 Yuan (£70) an hour for her course.

Her battle against bad manners is being echoed by the authorities. Last year, Shanghai launched the "Be a lovable Shanghainese" campaign to try to dissuade locals from spitting on the streets, and Beijing began a three-year programme to improve behaviour at sporting events. It was inspired by complaints from some of the world's top snooker players about the way the 2005 China Open was disrupted by people refusing to switch off their mobile phones during frames.

DOS AND DONT'S IN MODERN CHINA

Model Behaviour

Don't: If invited somewhere but you can't attend, never bluntly say "I can't" but "I'd love to but I can't".

Do: Expect appreciation and gratitude for everything you do for others.

In The Restaurant

Don't: If a steak is not cooked as requested, customers never compromise but insist on having it done the way they want.

Do: The Chinese like to remind restaurant staff that they are the clients and that the restaurant must accommodate their whims. A fussy attitude is respected.

Out On The Town

Don't: Suits are out of bounds for women on evening dates, they are strictly for business. For men, jeans are a no-no - unless it's a trip to a fast-food restaurant.

Do: Smart clothes are obligatory for both sexes. Women are also expected to look soft and feminine.

Respect

Don't: Young people don't expect their bosses or seniors to pay for them when they go out together.

Do: Seniors do expect the respect, however, of having the odd coffee bought for them once in a while.

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