The Definition of Good Manners – Etiquette Interpreting in Mandarin

It is Derby Day 2018, a procession of elegantly turned out ladies is descending on Melbourne’s Windsor Hotel including your writer. You would, no doubt, be thinking that this is a pre-race event, but NO! we are all here to learn from the doyen of etiquette for the last nearly 70 years – the inimitable June Dally-Watkins, or Miss Dally as she is known by her Chinese acolytes.

The audience is largely female and mostly Chinese so I feel a bit like a gate crasher; luckily there are a few others like me who obviously need to tune up their etiquette too!

Miss Dally visits China regularly offering her variety of Western etiquette training to enthusiastic Chinese. Today we heard about the importance of keeping busy (which at 91 years of age obviously works for Miss Dally); and she doesn’t have a mobile – it is all in her head, her ‘control tower’; how to hold your knife and fork (not like those Americans please); and not to blow your nose into your serviette – all wisdom imparted through a very good Mandarin Interpreter.

From a girl on a remote sheep station, to the back blocks of China, Miss Dally has dined with Gregory Peck, sung with Bing Crosby and now charms the Chinese.

Her advice, while from another era, is still valued and had me thinking about the reverse – westerners madly soaking up Chinese etiquette – how to dine, master those pesky chopsticks, and, most importantly, how to develop enduring and successful relationships. This seemed to be working across cultures at the Windsor during the networking sessions when biz cards and WeChat were cementing new ‘friendships’.

Etiquette – consideration for others – is highly valued in Chinese society – the Chinese are masters at it and always make one feel welcome and valued. Respect sums it up and you need to be able to ‘speak the language’ over and above the words – respect is a positive and powerful force (Jodie Bache-McLean of JDW). The language and culture on this point is universal.


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