With the tremendous amount of new wealth created in China, more and more Chinese are finding themselves in the elite upper-class. Yet, many are still unsure how to properly “fit” into this elite class.
No worries, where is there is a business opportunity, there is a business to meet the need. The Institute Sarita in Beijing, which opened in March, offers classes where wealthy Chinese can learn high-class lifestyle etiquette and skills.
The two-week course comes at a hefty price tag of 100,000rmb (US$16,000), yet applicants are plentiful, most of whom are women in their 40s, reports Sino Daily.
“Their parents survived traumatic hardships under the late leader Mao Zedong, while their children enjoy privileged lives exposed to Western concepts. And they are caught in a constant culture shock,” says Institute’s founder, Sarah Jane Ho, a Harvard graduate and alumna of Institut Villa Pierrefeu, also known as the last Swiss finishing school. “Today’s nouveau riche women in China are the first to take on all these roles of wife, mother, daughter, businesswoman in this new drastically changed world. There are no precedents, no rules, no person for them to refer to. What my clients want is really a guide, a new Confucius. What they need is a frame of reference and this is what I provide.”
Classes include how to hold an oyster fork, pronounce luxury brand names, and lessons in fine wine and elite sports such as golf and riding. The Institute is modeled after traditional finishing schools once reserved for young women from well-to-do families in the West, which have now largely disappeared.
Many clients decide they need such guidance after finding themselves stumped at a fancy engagement, such as a Western style meal. “They don’t dare start eating for fear of being ridicules, for example, with escargot,” says the Institute’s Head Chef, who Ho recruited from the French Embassy.
For one client, the intricacies of Western dining were among the most valuable lessons of her 10-day course at Institute Sarita. “I think the way someone eats – how they hold their fork and knife, the way they eat their food – can say a lot about their etiquette and their temperament. My parents may have learned from experiences or from TV or the internet. I want to be more specialized.”
Even more important, these courses convey intangible qualities of poise, taste and confidence.
“[The Chinese] recognize that being viewed as ‘nouveau riche’ makes them vulnerable to popular criticism,” adds Harvard sociologist Martin Whyte. “They feel a need to demonstrate to the world that they are not just crude money-grubbing upstarts, but have some cultural refinement and civility, and thus might be viewed as honorable wealthy, rather than resented.”
photo credit: texas a&m university commerce marketing communications