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Grace Lee seeks to bring civility back in style

Grace Lee of Canyon Country seeks to encourage a culture of ‘social graces’

Posted: July 14, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 14, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Etiquette expert Grace Lee demonstrates the proper way to hold utensils at the dinner table. Photo by Jonathan Pobre/The Signal.

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Grace Etsuko Lee recently moved from Arizona to the Santa Clarita Valley to care for her 86-year-old mother Etsuko Samuel.

In the process, the SCV gained not only another resident, but a champion of the "social graces" — manners.

Lee works as an international etiquette expert. She also has written two books.

Her first book, "Little Caterpillar in Training: A Culture in Transition and its Mixed Child in Post-war Japan," is a memoir drawn from her own personal experiences.

Her newest work is "Social Graces: Essential Tools for Successful Ladies."

"It teaches everything you would learn at a world-class charm school that specializes in both domestic and international etiquette," said Lee.

The book is really an interactive workbook that covers action items such as how to make a good first impression; how to move gracefully with proper posture; how to make introductions; how to shop for clothes that flatter your figure; choosing occasion appropriate clothes and accessories; skin care, day and evening make-up; table manners; restaurant etiquette and more.

"My book teaches more than rules about table manners," she said.

Lee was born in Japan. Her mother, who came from an influential Japanese family, and her father — a West Indian, Ivy League-educated diplomat — made sure she was well-trained in both Japanese and Western social graces. Her upbringing sparked an interest in etiquette at an early age.

She lived in Japan until she was 14 when she and her mother moved to Los Angeles. After finishing school Lee started her career in Los Angeles in international marketing.

"I would bring companies to the United States from Japan and other parts of the world," she said. "After a while I started bringing American business to Japan. It was a disaster."

Lee said she soon realized that the cultural differences were making it difficult to conduct business between the two countries.

"They didn’t understand each other," she said. "I realized I needed to teach business etiquette and culture to American businesses and to the Japanese."

Lee said growing up in Japan had given her an appreciation for the social graces, which are important in the culture.

"I had flower arranging, tea ceremony and other classes," she said. "Americans are unique because they can select the best traditions from other cultures and incorporate them into their own. This allows the best social graces from every culture to become part of America."

After running a "finishing school" for nearly 20 years in Scottsdale, Ariz. Lee retired and became a sought after international etiquette expert.

She recently appeared on television on "Good Day New Mexico" in Albuquerque, N.M. and will appear Thursday on "The Morning Blend" in Tucson, Ariz.

In August she will be in Florida appearing on two national shows "Daytime" and "Life Love Shopping."

Lee travels throughout the country speaking about the "social graces."

She reminds her audiences that first impressions are important.

"The first impression you make on someone sets the stage for how they treat you in the future," she said. "No matter where you go you should dress properly. How you dress tells people how you feel about yourself."

Lee also advises men to stand up when they shake hands.

"It’s very important. The handshake is a negotiation tool. So for both businessmen and businesswoman, they need to stand up to shake hands," she said.

Lee said the social graces make the world a better place, but also make the world better for each individual.

"When you practice the social graces you find that people treat you better. In addition it is about learning who you are and being happy with who you are," she said.

Lee is the mother a son and grandmother of two.

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