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Essential Reading: Getting Your Caribbean Style Right

People with an interesting book to write often also have something interesting to tell about themselves. In the case of the author of Manners and Entertaining with Marguerite Gordon: A Guide to Caribbean Life, there is much which is both interesting and unusual to tell.   Marguerite Gordon’s own story began on Jamaica, where in her later teens she developed an interest in writing but did not pursue publishing a book until years later when she wrote a successful children’s book, Dancer, The Little Dog from Mayaro Beach.  In the meanwhile, she entered the world of modeling and fashion, won a Miss Jamaica title and then also in the Sixties did a turn as a ” Bond girl” opposite Sean Connery in the movie Dr. No when it was filmed on Jamaica.  In the years since, she has followed her variety of interests in the worlds of fashion and human resource consultancy that has brought her a wider perspective on lifestyle, entertaining and how to be both the ideal host and guest at just about any type of Caribbean event.  Nowadays a resident of Trinidad, here she discusses some of the issues covered in her new book.

courtesy - Ian Randle Publishers


What inspired you initially to write this book when you did?  Looking back, what were some of the most interesting things you came across while you were writing it — either people, places, businesses you encountered?

Marguerite Gordon: I knew over twenty years ago that I wanted to write about a subject dear to my heart and that was “Manners” for all. Because I am in the business of Human Resource Development as a consultant and trainer, I kept coming across some really dreadful situations about how the public was treated by staff of companies, both in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.  Customer Service was a myth because so many of the staff had no idea of business etiquette at all because these staff members did not think they were being rude and unfocused. Many also (more so in Trinidad and Tobago) mix up the meaning of the words “service” and “servile”. I have for years given private classes in Social Etiquette for both men and women. I also knew that there was (and still is) some embarrassment – especially men who have many university degrees – to admit to the fact that they do not know how to hold a knife and fork the “correct” way, and I realized when companies started to ask me to do courses on their board room level that a great need was there. So on one hand you have the Chairmen/women and the executive level needing help and on the other hand many young people coming out of schools today who are not equipped to go into the world and grow and are entering companies at a lower level becoming the “face” of their company. In fact, many young people in the late twentieth century and now are very tough and at a certain level are hard to train. When a Caribbean person lacks self confidence they both withdraw and appear churlish and rude or they become forceful and appear loud, projecting a “don’t care” attitude and … again …rude. So I decided a book for all!  I enjoyed my research and because I have been writing columns on this subject for many years for The Woman’s Magazine of the Sunday Express Newspapers, ( which has the largest circulation in T and T) it was fairly easy to go back in files.

CE: You’ve seen a lot of change across the Caribbean when it comes to social or public occasions.  What do you think are some of the important that people need to be aware of — either for planning a social event of their own, or planning to attend a social or business or official function nowadays?

Marguerite Gordon: People need to be aware that they can do the planning of many small and fairly large events on their own with efficient organization and the hiring of certain necessary china, glasses, tables, chairs, etc.  If the hostess or host is great in the cooking arena (I am not) then that can help the budget, but if you have to of course use a caterer whom you have met and briefed as to the time they must arrive. The bar and menu when one is hosting a party are very important and I implore hostess not to have shell fish (without a choice of something else) when entertaining guests for the first time. They should-for small luncheon and dinner parties- find out if these guests have allergies or are vegetarians etc. The invitations are important, specifying the time of your function, the dress code. Even if it is a casual affair and it’s a telephone invitation, give correct information. Have an exciting mix of guests, decide on your table settings and figure out your seating plan well in advance.

When planning to attend someone else’s function read that invitation properly, (make sure it is the right date), get directions if necessary, answer yea or nay promptly and if a social invitation and the time given is say 7.30 pm please do not arrive at 7.29 or even 7.30! —  7.40 or 7.45 p.m. is fine.  If however the function is an official one, please arrive on the dot. If the dress code has been left out or some strange urban code (like “formasual”) has been put in, telephone and politely ask for an English translation.  For business appointments, check out the place and parking before the day arrives, because you must be on time.

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