My answer sounded pretty lame to me. “My mum signed me up for it,” I said, when we were each asked why we had come on the Debrett’s one-day Coming of Age course. There were four of us, all girls, the other three a little older than me at 15, and two of them friends already.
I didn’t add, “And I didn’t want to be here.” To be honest, I hadn’t been best pleased. Nobody wants to lose a day right at the end of the summer holidays, just before starting a new school, and I had a hundred other things I wanted to do instead.
But I have to confess that it flouted all my expectations and I loved it!
The opening lesson of the day was on first impressions. Did you know that it only takes seven seconds to form an impression, on the basis of which we decide whether we like someone? Obviously this means how you walk into a room is really important, whether to make friends, secure a job or meet people at a party.
One of the leaders walked into the room in three different ways. The first two times with bad posture, speaking too fast and in an elevated pitch, eyes darting all over the room… and then finally standing straight and smiling and using eye-contact. And yes, we all had to agree that behaving confidently is much more attractive!
We were taught that smiling can give you eight more years of life; and it cheers other people up because when you see a smile, you want to smile too – and that in turn makes you happy. So cheerful people are more popular. We were taught about the triangle of the face, including the mouth, eyes and forehead, and where to look to give different impressions, whether of friendliness or professionalism. And about personal space and how to respect other people’s.
What surprised me, I suppose, was how informative and interesting it all was. It was done in a very interactive way, and it was very relaxed and informal, not like school, so we could ask questions about anything we liked and go off in different directions.
So, for instance, somebody asked about how you should eat peas (answer: pushed on to your fork with mashed potatoes), whether we could use our fingers for asparagus and how to lay a table. When I got home and told my brothers and sisters they roared with laughter because it was such a cliché and they thought the whole day must have been full of trivia, with us walking around with books on our heads to improve our posture.
But it wasn’t like that at all: it included very useful skills, such as how to protect our profile on social media and manage our reputations in the world of cyberspace, how to network and tweet and handle friendships online.
Over lunch, the four of us girls relaxed together – the other three were really nice – while the leaders took a break. In the afternoon we learnt how to survive away from home: what to pack when staying with other people, how to be good guests and fit in with another family, and intriguingly, how to buy personalised presents so your hostess knows you have bothered to take trouble and think about it. For instance, if they have a dog you can choose a doggy present, and so on.
And yes, of course you always have to write a hand-written thank you note! (If you thought you were going to get out of that with “a quick email is better than nothing,” forget it…) For everything. And straight away.
So I had to admit, when I came home, that my mother had had a good idea for once. It was huge fun, interesting and useful, and I have learnt things I will probably remember and find helpful for a very long time.
Not a bad way to spend nearly the last day of the summer holidays…
Rosie Atkins, 13