Chinese tourists behaviour: How Shanghai's wealthy are improving their etiquette

I've just returned from Shanghai, which astounds me every time.

Over the years, I've watched its phenomenal growth, as buildings shot up all over the city, especially the Pudong side of the Huangpu river, which is now a dense forest of high-rises stretching as far as the eye can see, and further, past the airport for miles.

Some of the older parts of the city have been preserved, but even on the periphery of these areas, in neighbourhoods such as Jing'an, gleaming shopping malls selling high-end brands like Vuitton and Chanel have appeared like dazzling jewel-boxes where there once were lane houses and shabby apartments.

The glamour shopping malls have bred like rabbits. Walking through them (most are empty during the day), I wonder who can afford all that stuff. And who is buying? Prices of imported fashions in China are very high, despite the fact most items are now made there, and the Chinese go to Paris to get better deals. But a new, shiny billionaire is minted every week in China, so I suppose at that level a few RMB more here or there doesn't matter.

The upshot of this: on the level of international restaurants by Michelin-starred chefs and luxury hotels like the new, opulent, crystal-laden Shangri-La that rises over the malls in Jing'an, Shanghai is now quite pricey, especially with our dollar falling against the local currency by about 20 per cent.

While the tourists rush to the malls of fake goods on Nanjing Road, fashion-conscious Shanghainese eschew anything fake and go for the real thing. But handbags are not all they crave. Increasingly well-to-do Chinese are interested in learning about how to conduct themselves in the world, according to rules of etiquette set down by the titled and seriously rich in Western society. Rules, such as where to sit heads of state at the dining table, which most of us never followed, never needed or have forgotten.

Enter Monsieur Guillaume Rué de Bernadac, the young Frenchman who is the CEO and founder of the Académie de Bernadac. The dapper, cravat-wearing M. Rué de Bernadac runs etiquette courses for upwardly mobile Shanghainese and their children at the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel, private homes and other locations.

The Bernadac family were private tutors at the court of the King of Morocco between the 1920s and 1960s, educating young princes and princesses in "the art of etiquette and sophistication". The young M. Rué de Bernadac was a student at Shanghai's Tongji University when he decided China's young princes and princesses could do with similar lessons.

For women, the academy offers deportment classes on how to get in and out of limousines, pose for photographs, correct stepping and beautiful posture, how to climb and descend stairs in high heels. For gentlemen (and presumably women too) there are classes in business etiquette, table manners, eloquence in public speaking and wine appreciation.


Travel etiquette lessons include how to make a reservation, how to behave with waiters, how to tip, which museums to go to and how to behave in them, understanding the codes of French luxury and how to choose an "it" handbag.

Social excellence classes offer lessons on how to give a good impression, the secret codes of handshakes, detecting lies and codes of seduction. Children are taught creativity and confidence, how to control emotions and how to conduct themselves when they study abroad.

I meet M. Rué de Bernadac at the Portman Ritz-Carlton, where he's giving a demonstration of how to seat guests at an imaginary dinner party, which includes Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, Angelina Jolie and Chinese President Xi Jingping. He's also teaching students how to set a table for a banquet, using Christofle cutlery.

Some of the cutlery, which includes tongs, cake slides and strange forks, look like ancient gynaecological instruments. I suppose I don't go to enough official banquets. But for the academy's students, correctly identifying a fish knife is crucial to being a sophisticated world citizen. President Xi himself has criticised Chinese for giving a bad impression of the country when they travel because of poor manners.

For the newly rich, such classes are status symbols in themselves. Like rich Westerners before them, the Chinese have moved on from showing status exclusively by owning things. They now need to show they appreciate what those things are.

Another fascinating side to this compelling city.

Lee Tulloch was the guest of the International Luxury Travel Market and Shangri-La hotels.