Being perfectly Frank

A pre-’70s class from an elite school was meeting at a Hikka hotel and one of the members of this class, I am told, was the former chairman of a well-known company.

Spirits were high and some were high on spirits.One particular individual oozing with more spirit than talent decided he wanted to emulate Frank Sinatra and do it ‘his way’. From the time (8:25 p.m.) the two-piece band playing at the venue plugged in their guitars, this Frank Sinatra-wannabe kept asking the band to do it ‘his way’.

It would have been acceptable if he at least knew the lyrics to the songs he wanted to sing. He could belt out two or three opening bars of the songs and the rest were all starts and stops, somewhat like a learner driver behind a wheel, steering for the first time. Unable to handle the situation any further – as they were being asked to play 1930s music, which was beyond their scope – the band finally began to pack up their equipment at 11 p.m., the official windup time. At this point, local Frank’s buddies requested the band to play more, and the band agreed, subject to certain conditions: for the microphone to be given back to them and that they would play and sing songs they knew.

However, our local Frank would have none of it; moving away with the microphone he started insulting the band members over the PA system. This was the final straw – one musician got off the stool, unplugged his guitar and started putting the equipment away and local Frank’s buddies demanded that the guitars be given to them so they could continue the charade. Hotel managers came rushing in from all over. Many were the questions asked and many were the demands made – “Who gave you permission to pack? Unpack and play now!” “Who said you could leave?” “The party has not finished, you have to play!” going back and forth.

One musician was adamant not to play as he was the one insulted and harassed all evening. He was then given an ultimatum by the two hotel managers, their exact words being “these are our honoured guests and they have spent a lot of money, so you had better play or leave the hotel!” to which the musician replied, “I will not play for people who insult me.” The manager’s reply was “just because you know a few words of English you don’t have to shout. Get out of our hotel!”

So the musician was thrown out sans his bag and car at approximately 11:30 p.m., whilst the second musician stayed back to play a few tunes to stoke the already alcohol bloated egos of the big spenders. I suppose one could say that this is no surprise as Sri Lankans behave like this after a couple of shots and it has become acceptable behaviour for hotel staff to go with the trend if they want to be in business. The guest is always right is what is taught and drilled into hoteliers. And if by chance the guest is a big wig in the business world, more rules can and will be bent. It is almost a given.

On the other hand, we have those Sri Lankans who never grow up, who also seem to have a Jekyll and Hyde character to them. During the day they play the good corporate types, but these very same people turn into manner-less monsters when they let their hair down.

Corporate citizenship is a word the business world uses to show that they are decent guys – caring for the people around them. And basically how one does this is by organising a project, usually targeting the less fortunate in society – and it actually becomes an outpouring of the particular company’s generosity. Nice!

But what is the character of a civic-minded citizen – corporate or otherwise? Above everything, the requirement is decency. Now there are many definitions that can be worked into the word decent. But primarily I think the word that comes to mind is gentlemanly. But then, the question is, is it inborn or can it be taught?

PriyanganiPannilaPerera, a Sri Lankan born Canadian citizen who is here in the island to conduct a seminar titled ‘Manners in Management,’ says that it can be taught, i.e. to be a gentleman in the business world! The workshop titles included in the series are: ‘How to be a Polite Professional,’ ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,’ ‘Is That What you’re wearing?’ and ‘Lost in Translation’. ‘Manners in Management’ promises to provide business professionals a complete overview on corporate etiquette. According to Priyangani, the seminar is ideally suited for experienced professionals who need a brief refresher on the fundamentals of general business etiquette. An overview of basic principles will be included as it is challenging for high profile businessmen and women to keep on top of the newest trends when it comes to corporate etiquette.

In today’s ever-changing global workplace, it is important to be aware of cultural differences and differing customs. Although it is meant to be a review of corporate etiquette concepts, this seminar is also used as an introduction to a more in depth study of various areas of business etiquette, which warrants its inclusion in the ‘Manners in Management’ series.

Next week Priyangani and her colleagues will take on the daunting task of training some of our Sri Lankan corporate fellows. They may probably need to design a special course for us Sri Lankans, i.e. on how to continue to be mannerly after clocking out!

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

Source : Daily FT (

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