Photo by Ungano & Agriodimas
Crown Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece is a New York transplant, mama to five kids, and the founder of her own children’s fashion line, Marie-Chantal. We caught up with her to learn about her new book, Manners Begin at Breakfast, a beautifully illustrated how-to guide she has written about modern etiquette for families. We hoped to pick up some tips about how to stop our children eating with their fingers, but came away with some profound insights about our impact as parental role models when it comes to manners.
How did you develop a first interest in manners and etiquette? Who was your main inspiration?
When I was little my father was busy building a business. Even though he was busy, he always insisted that we sit down together as a family at breakfast. We were dressed in our school uniforms and our parents expected us to be properly dressed, hair brushed, hands washed before we could sit at the table. It was expected of us at all mealtimes. What I remember isn’t strict austere rules but nice boundaries and happy family time.
What does the title of your book, “Manners Begin at Breakfast”, mean to you?
Manners Begin at Breakfast means that we start every day, at the very beginning of the day, at the table teaching our children the first rules of manners.
Photo by Ungano & Agriodimas
What are some of your etiquette pet peeves?
A pet peeve of mine would be when I see a parent and his or her child at a restaurant where an iPad is placed on the table and no interaction is taking place at all. Mealtimes in most cultures are a celebration or a time to share our thoughts with one another. You wouldn’t do it on a date or hope to never be that person who has no conversation at all when out at a restaurant, so why do it with your child? I understand that children may not know how to sit at the table without an iPhone or a tablet so this is where I stress that one needs to break the habit and teach them the art of conversation and sitting at the table. It’s not hard, you just need to learn to make it fun.
If you were going to single out one piece of advice in your book that could have the biggest impact on the lives of a family, what would it be?
We all want our children to be treated well when they go out into the world and that will depend on how they treat other people. Give them a toolbox to be able to find success. Teach them to be polite and kind to others from an early age, and good manners and a happy disposition should become second nature.
In what ways do you think the digital age has detrimentally affected peoples’ etiquette? Aside from us all being glued to our phones of course!
As a parent, one of our most important roles is to teach children how to behave. This is best taught through being a good role model for our kids. Parents are fundamental in teaching core values to our children. However, in this day and age electronics offer more and more distractions from healthy human relationships. As children grow older, technology offers great advances in education and correspondence but also challenges with relationships and self-confidence. It’s important for parents to be present and active in their young children’s use of technology. Teach them wisely and always encourage moderation.
You have five children of very different ages — how do you keep a close family connection and sense of home?
I’m a firm believer in treating people the way you want to be treated and that also applies to how I treat my parents and siblings. I’m hopeful that my children will treat me and their siblings the way they were brought up.
You have created a beautiful children’s fashion brand, Marie-Chantal. How do your passions for etiquette and fashion go together?
Tom Ford once said, “dressing well is a form of good manners”. When I was growing up, my mother told me to always dress nicely because you never know who you’ll run into. She was so right and I’ve passed this advice along to my kids. This doesn’t mean dressing up to the nines every time you leave the house. My rules are simply that no matter what my children wear, try to look neat and tidy.
Photo by Ungano & Agriodimas
You grew up in Hong Kong and have lived in many different countries since then. How did you decide to make New York City your home?
I was fortunate enough to have enjoyed an international upbringing. I was born in London, raised in Hong Kong and Paris and finally ended up in New York for University at NYU. When my children were little we lived in London and decided to move back three years ago as my bigger kids were at University or about to start. We wanted to be together as a family so we collectively decided to move. I wasn’t ready to be an empty nester with kids living across the pond.
Your book, clothing line, and store are all absolutely beautiful. Where do you get your sense of style from? Would you say you have a signature style?
I grew up with a love of fashion and my mother was and still is so stylish. When we were little and living in Paris you can imagine the feasts of fashion that one is exposed to. The French taught me so much but so did my mother. I always knew that I wanted to have a career in fashion but a gentler one and children’s wear is so perfect. I’m quite simple at heart in my fashion choices and like to keep it elegant even though I’m always in jeans. I try to look smart or with a touch of something lovely.
Tactfully dealing with a tech tantrum
Remember when your child had to give up the pacifier?
Electronic devices are just the same.
Most of us have been guilty at some time or other of giving our children a smartphone or tablet to distract them while we take them on errands, to a restaurant — pretty much everywhere. And then, when we take away the “pacifier,” the children are (unsurprisingly) enraged. So how do we deal with it?
When your child has a tantrum, it’s essential to remain calm and guide them through it. Tantrums are normal in a child’s development, and remember — they don’t last forever. Once the tantrum is over, have a gentle conversation with your child, and explain that they need to learn to regain control of their calmer emotions. Although not easy, a child has to learn to sit with themselves — to acknowledge their feelings and manage them — and know that they won’t always be instantly gratified. Above all, be consistent and compassionate in your approach, and don’t give in.
From Manners Begin at Breakfast: Modern Etiquette for Families by Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece. Published by Vendome Press, available in all good bookstores and online. (March 2020, $24.95))