Franco Nuschese’s Rules of Social Behavior
FRANCO NUSCHESE dishes on protocol pitfalls, pratfalls and predicaments
During 13 years at Café Milano, I have learned a lot about etiquette. Youmight think it would be an easy transition from the shores of the Amalfi Coast, where celebrities frolic, to the banks of the Potomac, where the big names all politic. Think again. Moving from one culture to another forced me to learn many things that are instinctive to people born in America.
Even the way I talked had to change — from the rapid, almost brisk, non-stop way in which so many Italian men converse to a slower pace — listening to others, instead of yelling ciao, and moving on. The pace of business, even at a business lunch, is faster here than in southern Europe, where afternoon relaxation is a way of life. I had to learn the more independent role of women in America, and especially in Washington. I learned that often the surest way to get attention was to try to not get attention.
When Washington Life asked me to write an etiquette column based on my experiences hosting events and operating Café Milano, I thought, hey, I’ve tip-toed for years through a social swamp chock full of pitfalls, pratfalls and predicaments—and fallen a time or two. And, I can’t resist a challenge. I came, I saw, and I am still trying to conquer the ever-changing Washington social scene.
Here’s a few of my own rules of etiquette:
• Let your guest of honor take center stage. For receptions at Café Milano, it’s important for them to be in the spotlight. Too many hosts, and even restaurant owners, try to snare some of the reflected glory. (At Café Milano, I sometimes come in a little late to let the reception develop and form a personality of its own.)
• Moderate the tone of your voice. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Hasta La Vista, Baby,” is an example of what tone can do. It might be cute, conspiratorial, or funny. Choose your tone carefully, and keep it calm.
• Show respect for others’ conversations. It’s fine to “work” a room, but when you come up to two people talking, wait for a momentary break and then greet both of them, not just the more important of the two. It is insulting to interrupt a conversation by thrusting your hand toward one person while ignoring the other. (As a restaurant proprietor, I instruct our waiters not to interrupt a patron’s punch line by breaking in with “How was the wine?” or “Are you ready to order now?” Instead, they need to quickly assess a conversation and wait to approach the table until there appears to be a brief lull in conversation. You should tell your event or personal staff the same).
• Be sure to acknowledge the presence of people around you. Italians have a saying: “A compliment may be forgotten tomorrow, but a slight will be remembered forever.”
• Don’t inject whatever unyielding views you might have into conversations with new acquaintances. Get to know someone, and let them get to know you, before issuing declarations on gay marriage, abortion, God, how to raise children, or whatever other nonnegotiable views you have.
• Try to find out what you may be discussing at the dinner table beforehand. See if you can get a copy of the guest list and study it. If the person across the table is a renowned spine surgeon, you may not want to instruct him on the pros or cons of pain killers. If the woman is a world-class soccer player, perhaps it would be wise not to sermonize about the intricacies of the offside rule. If he’s French, definitely don’t lecture on the art of kissing.
I’ll have more rules next time. I’d welcome your questions or suggestions for future columns.
E-mail to email@example.com and be sure to put “Rules” in the subject line. Franco Nuschese is the President of Georgetown Entertainment Group (Café Milano, Sette Osteria, Sette Bello)
PHOTOS BY KYLE SAMPERTON