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Be Polite. Pass It On. It Pays.

Lifestyle: Newport Beach etiquette consultant Consuelo de Chozas knows how to behave. And she tells others too.

May 16, 1997|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A turtle the size of a football has rudely invaded the pristine frontyard of Newport Beach etiquette consultant Consuelo de Chozas and, after a moment of consternation, De Chozas has found an exceedingly courteous way of disposing of the neighbor's pet.

She gingerly picks up the turtle from where it has been dining on her flower bed and escorts it to her backyard, where it'll be safe from cars, lawn mowers and other threats until she can track down its owner.

Chozas, the picture of poise, then returns to her immaculate living room, where she has been serving tea.

"I should do a pet etiquette book," she says.

One simply expects no less a treatment of animals, or humans, from a woman whose knowledge of etiquette has made her a kind of Miss Manners of Orange County. Courtesy--whether bestowed upon waiters or turtles--is De Chozas' specialty.

De Chozas' reputation for politeness recently had Hollywood calling; filmmakers sought her advice for an upcoming movie starring Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz called "My Best Friend's Wedding."

"It's about a debutante in Chicago who is getting married, and they needed advice about situations that require etiquette," says De Chozas, who is too polite to name which actress required the coaching.

De Chozas has taught manners to children and adults at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach, the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, the Assistance League and the Rotary.

This summer she will offer seminars in business protocol at the Women's Opportunity Center at UC Irvine. She speaks four languages and has counseled international businesses and governments on how to greet and entertain foreign dignitaries.

"Consuelo is extremely elegant," says Ginger Barnard, deputy chief of protocol for Los Angeles County. "She's the epitome of good manners, and her international background gives her added panache. She knows that manners give a person an advantage in life, especially in a world where we've forgotten that."

Manners can open doors, says De Chozas, just as not knowing the rudiments of politeness can slam them shut. She cites a recent Wall Street Journal article that described how a headhunter, interviewing people for a $65,000-a-year job, nixed one candidate after taking him to lunch. The reason: The prospective employee neglected to put his napkin on his lap.

"I began teaching etiquette classes because I saw how manners give you a frame in which to go through life," De Chozas says. "Life is a play, and we all have to perform. The sound of that play is the sound of your voice; the costumes are the way you dress; the choreography is your gestures and how you move. You have to know your steps."

De Chozas first learned those steps as one of five children in a Buenos Aires family. Her parents hired a strict German nanny to take care of the children.

"We loved her, but she was very strict with table manners and everything else," De Chozas says. "I always tell parents, 'Don't think because you're strict that you won't be loved.' Sometimes, children will love you even more so, because [discipline] gives you structure."

When she was 13, De Chozas' father became minister of industry and mining for Argentina. She accompanied her parents to social galas, such as the opening of the opera, and observed as they hosted dignitaries in their home.

"Entertaining at home tripled. My mother was very elegant, and she arranged everything--the flowers, the seating, the details. I would follow her around and watch her as she set up the tables," she says. "It was like a protocol class. I found I had an appreciation and eye for it, and I realized that having a sensitivity to these things can get you ahead in life."

Her interest in staging events later prompted De Chozas to open a public relations agency in Buenos Aires. For 10 years she guided businesses and the government, showing them how to greet and seat VIPs and other matters of international protocol.

"Dealing with foreign VIPs taught me the importance of certain behavior, codes and customs of other countries. It's very much a part of their life and even their religion," she says.

De Chozas learned much about etiquette by watching those whom she considered elegant, observing their mannerisms and body language. For instance, she says, elegant people know when to be silent and when to take the spotlight.

"Most elegant people I know are very good listeners. They make you feel important," she says.

At cocktail parties, they never "talk to you as if you were a piece of furniture," she says.

They don't look over your shoulder for someone more important to talk to; when they want to speak to another guest, they finish the conversation by saying something like "Excuse me, I have to meet this person." Only then do they move on.

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