Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hip + Urban Girl of the Week: Karen Cleveland

This week we with chat with Karen Cleveland, who writes the oh-so-excellent etiquette column, Finishing School with our friends over at She Does The City (great blog - check it out stat). By day, Karen is the Senior Marketing and Communications Manager at St. Joseph Media, on magazines like FASHION, Weddingbells, Toronto Life, Canadian Family and Glow. We check-in with Karen to find out how she got her start and her answers to our etiquette questions!

How did you become so fascinated with the rules of etiquette?

I grew up with a dusty 1957 edition of Emily Post's Etiquette in our house. In my late teens and early 20's, I discovered Judith Martin and books like The Fabulous Girl's Guide to Decorum (by Toronto's own etiquette originators Ceri Marsh and Kim Izzo). From there, I just fell into it. I had been freelance writing for a few years when I started Finishing School ─ etiquette was just a topic I kept coming back to, purely out of interest. I never tire of the subject.

We have etiquette questions!

What do you think is an appropriate amount to contribute as a wedding gift?  Is there a 'going rate' these days?

It would so much easier if there was a "going rate" for a wedding gift, but it doesn't exist. Giving a gift is an intimate act, and moreover, weddings are intimate occasions. But if anyone is really in a jam, I'd be happy to try and help over a coffee. I love vicariously shopping for gifts.

What's the best way to break up with a friend that you no longer see eye-to-eye with?

Break ups of any type, romantic or otherwise, are sad. The best way to break things off with a friend is the exact same way that you would want to have your heart broken: gently, respectfully, honestly and privately.

I'm looking at my place setting at a fancy dinner and all I see is jumble of forks, spoons and knives. What are the rules of engagement here?

The tiny fork on your left is for grains. The largest spoon on the right is for oysters, but only for those more than 4 inches in diameter. Kidding. The safest bet is to start from the outside and work your way in, course by course. If you are feeling intimidated, buy yourself some time by sipping some water or commenting to the person beside you how incredible the meal looks, and then stealthily observe what utensils your dinner companions have reached for.

Your biggest pet peeve?

Karen (left) strolling in Madrid on another travel adventure
What did you study in College/University? Is there anything you would do differently or advise others about?

When I started university I intended to study theatre and changed my mind shortly into it. I switched provinces, universities and majors, ending up with an honours from York University, double majoring in Women's Studies and Communications. I was encouraged to study what I was interested in, rather than studying with a particular job in mind. I would offer that same advice.

My only regret academically was fast-tracking my degree. I relished my program and because I whipped through it so quickly, I fear I might have missed out here and there.

What is your typical day like?

No two days are alike, which is fantastic as I have the attention span of a flea. I wake up around 6:45am to head to the gym. By the time I get to my office, I have had a few coffees and am caught up on emails and updates in the news. From there, my day is a happy whirlwind of writing, meetings, strategy planning, brainstorms and an awful lot of emails. The best part of my day, hands down, is the clever people I work with.

I am usually home by 7:30pm and evenings go either one of two ways ─either a quiet night of running errands, chipping away at some writing, reading, cooking, etc. Or, checking out an event, grabbing dinner with friends, hosting at my place....   

On the TFGI Discussion Panel
Who do you draw inspiration from? 

I find inspiration in the people around me: my family, friends, colleagues - and sometimes watching strangers, especially when I’m travelling.  I’m a greedy reader, forever juggling a stack of books and magazines.

Where are your favourite places to hang out in Toronto?

I never tire of strolling around my West end neighbourhood ─ it always feels new to me, even though I’ve lived there for a few years. I'm really fickle so don’t have regular spots, but I’m a sucker for any sun-filled patio, spring through fall. When I get sulky or full of vacation nostalgia, there are some great Central American restaurants on Bloor. White Squirrel Cafe and Balzac's are like satellite offices for me ─ they are my favourite places to write.

I love the Thompson Collection of model ships at the A.G.O. It is one of my favourite places in Toronto. I love everything about it ─the display cases themselves are showpieces.

Where would you go on your dream vacation?

I don't have so much of a destination in mind as much as I do a setting. A perfect vacation would be all of my friends and family from all over the world, together in one place. We would be on a beach somewhere fantastic. There would be long, languorous meals that stretch for hours, surfing, piles of books, fires on the beach at night and not a clock in sight.

Karen with Jen McNeely, Editor of She Does The City
What would you tell your 20 year-old self?

Please. Slow. Down.

What life advice do you have for hip + urban girls out there trying to figure out what they want to do?

Travel. Don't put pressure on yourself to have it all figured it all out. Keep your integrity. Do work that you're proud of, with people you're proud to work with. Surround yourself with good friends and look after each other. Be mindful of your words and actions affect the people around you. Stay open to opportunities - if you are too focused on what you think you want, you might miss out on what else is out there.

Follow Karen on Twitter @SchoolFinishing and tweet her your etiquette questions.

Loved This? Meet a few other Hip + Urban Girls of the Week!

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