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The Boarding House Reach and Other Perils
By Suki Casanave '86G
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OK. Let's be honest. The word "fraternity"--as in college fraternity--does not immediately conjure up visions of fine dining, sharp dressing and polished social behavior. It is not, to put it bluntly, a term that is usually uttered in the same breath as the word "etiquette." Which is why Armida Geiger was, well, taken aback when she got a call from Matthew Andrews '11, vice president of member development for UNH's Sigma Phi Epsilon. "It really was a good thing I was sitting down," says Geiger, founder of the Adelie School of Protocol in Durham. "I was just floored."

Turns out the fraternity brothers wanted to brush up their manners and spiff up their style in preparation for their Sweetheart Ball. In short, they wanted to look good. What they discovered, though, is that etiquette isn't just something you put on for special occasions. "Manners are like boxers--you always have them on," says Ross Randall '12, outgoing vice president of programming. "That's what Mrs. Geiger told us--and she got a good laugh, seeing as she was talking to a bunch of fraternity brothers."

During the table manners portion of the training, Geiger addressed a slew of questions and misconceptions. "Most of us thought you should throw your tie over your shoulder to keep it out of your food," Randall says. Not true. If you're not prepared with a tie clip, simply tuck the end into your shirt. Other reminders: Spoon your soup away from yourself. Wait for the hostess (or the boss) to place her napkin in her lap before doing the same. And do not remove your jacket until the person who is treating you to lunch has removed his. If he doesn't, simply follow suit, so to speak.

And then there was the handshake. During one session, the room was full of fraternity brothers working on their grip. They learned how to avoid both "the dead fish" and "the bone crusher." And they were advised against the "Joe Jock" approach, which swings wide and then comes in for the shake. Instead, Geiger suggested going for the straightforward "web to web" shake--two hands clasping firmly at the "web" where the thumb and forefinger meet, followed by a brisk one-two pump.

In the end, even the skeptics were won over. "I really thought it was going to be terrible," Kenny Mancuso '12 wrote in his evaluation. "But it was honestly fantastic!! I loved every minute of it!" Others commented on the valuable life skills they learned and the fact that they felt better prepared for the real world.

"The most important thing they gained, though," Geiger says, "was an awareness, an attitude. Etiquette is really about respect for others. It's about kindness and consideration." Having braved the strange new world of social manners--and emerged on the other side, the newly polished brothers of Sigma Phil Epsilon have proved that it's possible to narrow the distance between the words "fraternity" and "etiquette." Plus, they've got better posture, stronger handshakes--and a touch of style to show for it. They're lookin' good.

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