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L.A. Popcorn Adventure #141
September 09, 2009

The World Is My Oyster... But I Used the Wrong Fork!

The Princess Diaries + Beverly Hills Manners

In The Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway plays 15-year-old Mia Thermopolis whose socially awkward teenage existence turns upside down when she suddenly learns that she is the princess of a small European country called Genovia. Mia's estranged grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews), takes on the challenge of transforming her gawky, clumsy granddaughter into a young lady fit for the throne. As Mia decides whether to carry on the life of a San Francisco teen or step up to the life of a princess, she struggles with pantyhose, posture and proper table manners. At the same time, she finds herself struggling to maintain her close friendships and to discover the best in herself. Although no one doubted that Anne Hathaway would morph perfectly into a princess, the film (adapted from the highly popular novels by Meg Cabot) has fun putting a modern spin on the familiar fairy tale and our girls were starstruck by Hathaway's performance in her breakout performance as the teen princess.

If your family meals are anything like ours, the younger ones around the table more often resemble a pack of wild primates than descendants of royalty. After one too many of these dinner fiascoes (food on the floor, fingers instead of forks, napkins who-knows-where) we finally made good on our threats of reform and brought (well, dragged) our little monkeys to Beverly Hills Manners for a dose of plain old-fashioned manners. Princess Diaries reminds us that good things happen when manners improve, and no question that the main draw for many who attend the Beverly Hills Manners Course is the promised "5-course dining tutorial," but Lisa Gache's program also includes a delectable assortment of other topics: poise and posture, grooming, first impressions, telephone, punchbowl and party etiquette, as well the fine art of introductions. The Introductory Course culminates with the meal. One little girl reached into the water glass for a lemon wedge and started munching on it. A boy wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve instead of his napkin, while another child ran his lips across his knife. "We don't suck on our utensils," Ms. Gache reminded, as she gracefully made her way around the table, gently pulling back slumped shoulders, explaining the proper way to eat bread, the many uses of napkins (to wipe a mouth, to catch a sneeze), the complexities of wine glass sizes, bread plate positions and the use of chargers. Aside from learning to appreciate a full place setting as a work of art, our daughter also learned what she considered a very valuable trick: how to give your host the appearance of having eaten something you don't like!

Film Title: The Princess Diaries
Directed By: Gary Marshall
2001, Rated G, 115 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • Why It's Worth It:  Anne Hathaway has grown from a gangling teen into a bonafide movie star, and our kids have grown up with her. This film offers a perfect demonstration of both her comedic gawkiness and her elegant maturity. The plot plays out predictably, much like the fairy tales from which it steals it's moves, but the casting is delectable for girls, in particular.  Manners aside, the movie takes a somewhat serious look at the awkwardness of growing up and the value of a person's character.
  • Red Flags: More kid friendly than appealing to adults but there's nothing offensive in this G-rated comedy.
  • Further Viewing: While this film spawned a sequel (Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement), if your kids are interested in tea parties, try Alice in Wonderland or The Little Princess. Or, if they're intrigued by manners and decorum, there's nothing like watching Audrey Hepburn become a proper lady in My Fair Lady.


Our Tips for Talking with your Kids about this Film:
  • Geography Savvy: There isn't really a country called Genovia; that was an invention of author Meg Cabot.
  • Literary Savvy: The popular film and its sequel are both based on the book "Princess Diaries" by Meg Cabot. Cabot, who prolifically chronicles the ups and downs of the female consciousness from 4th grade through high school, was a fave in our household for many years. The Princess Diaries spawned dozens of sequels in book form but all her other books are worth investigating for fourth graders and older.
  • Quote Savvy: Wanna know who said "The world is my oyster but I used the wrong fork?" Oscar Wilde


Beverly Hills Manners

High Tea in Los Angeles

Steeped In History at the Fowler Museum

Age Recommendation: six and up

Time Allotment: several hours

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: The Introductory Course is a good place to start with your youngest ones. Time runs from 11am to 2pm, ages 6-12. Cost is $100.00 per child, 2 hour complimentary parking. Course is held at McCormick & Schmick's Restaurant upstairs, 206 North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. Lisa Gache cuts a less intimidating figure than Queen Clarisse Renaldi, but doles out very similar instruction. "Princesses never cross their legs in public," remarks Queen Clarisse, explaining instead how to tuck one ankle behind the other and place the hands gracefully on the knees. Under Ms. Gache's tutelage, the young girls in the Beverly Hills Manners course practiced this very same move; it was hard not to crack a smile as they pivoted before their chairs, sat down and attempted this awkward ankle crossing. There was plenty instruction for the boys too. As one mother said, "There's nothing like watching your son pull out a chair for someone and push it in." Hearkening back to a bygone era, your little ones will even learn some manners fit for royalty-the curtsy and the bow, for instance, and how to introduce the Queen of England.
  • Your Kids May Wind Up Teaching You a Few Things: Here are a few tips we learned:To signal the end of the meal, pinch the center for the napkin and place it on the left side of your place setting; While it is considered bad manners to keep your elbows on the table while eating, your forearms are allowed on the table in between courses; When you break bread, tear off only a bite size piece; To signal to waiters that you are resting, use your fork and knife to make an inverted "V" on your plate. To signal the finished position, close your fork and knife together at an angle on your plat
  • Beverly Hills Manners:  Click here to visit the Beverly Hills Manners website, and to learn about other courses offered this fall -- including Cotillion classes, Teen courses and adult courses. Lisa Gache offers a good newsletter with manners tips. Described as "a California based protocol and etiquette training enterprise dedicated to promoting the development of good character and leadership skills to both children and adults worldwide"
  • Great Books on Manners: No time for a class? Kate Spade has written an adorable set of Manners and Style guides. We also like the Smart Girls Guide to Manners.

Our tips for Extending this Adventure:

  • High Tea around LA: On special occasions (for instance, any time grandma is in town) we love to splurge on a fancy high tea. Our favorite is Hotel Bel Air, with The Peninsula as a close second. The Montage and Viceroy also have high teas, as do the Four Seasons, Spago and Gordon Ramsey at the London. For a more casual outing, try Chado on Third Street (with additional locations in Pasadena and Downtown), the Tudor House in Santa Monica,  Paddington Tea Room (10 seat tea bar for tea tastings) or Jin Patisserie on Abbott Kinney. For something that promises to be unusual, go to Bazaar at the SLS Hotel on La Cienega, Zen Zoo Tea or Dr. Tea's Garden & Herbal Emporium. For an eastside treat, try a vintage Victorian cottage (The Rose Cottage) or a luscious hotel tea at The Langham at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena.
  • Tips on High Tea: Since this is a spendy outing, it's best to have manners all in place before you go! Our girls love to dress for a special occasion - and have since they were small. Don't even try to bring your sons - this is an ideal mother-daughter outing, and works from even a very young age; in fact, it's a nice tradition to start with grandma. Our daughter had a birthday party at Olivia's Dollhouse when she was six and celebrated her Sweet Sixteen with a fancy afternoon tea at a local hotel. Our tips: send a nice invitation around to friends to establish the special occasion -- setting the mood helps everyone remember to dress up and be on their best behavior. Some hotels will have varying levels of tea - at the high end with sandwiches and champagne, ranging to a simple tea and dessert platter. Call ahead and decide exactly what you want, based on your crowd's attention span. Kids can have non caffeinated tea with warm milk, but in reality, the tea is not their focus - the cakes and cookies take center stage.
  • Steeped In History at The Fowler: Come teach your kids about tea at a special kid activity day -- September 20 from 1-4pm. Click here for more details about this special event, as well as other programming related to the tea exhibit. We love this exhibit which explores the politics and history of tea -- from intricate Japanese tea ceremonies to the tariff wars of the Boston Tea Party. Click here for more about this exhibit; The Fowler is open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays and until 8 p.m. Thursdays. Click here for an LATimes article about Tea Habitat, a specialty Chinese tea store in the South Bay.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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