Love & Family: Advice From Etiquette Expert Sara Jane Ho

by Heather Chadwell-Aminzadeh / Feb 13, 2024

This week, SENREVE founder and CEO Coral Chung went Live on Instagram with Sara Jane Ho, star of Netflix’s smash hit Mind Your Manners, and author of her first book Mind Your Manners: How to Be Your Best Self in Any Situation, available in bookstores worldwide on April 19th. Coral tuned in from her home outside San Francisco and Sara joined the livestream from Shanghai.

Sara is the founder of a global etiquette school and teaches her followers how to thrive socially in a variety of situations, in person and online. Etiquette, Sara Jane says, is the glue that holds society together. Humans are social creatures, after all—we need connection to survive. But with global cultures in flux and the post-pandemic digital age, shadow epidemics of anxiety and loneliness are on the rise. Plus, the old rules of “decorum” don’t match the times.

Below, excerpts from Sara and Coral’s conversation about a range of topics including love and dating, family relationships, etiquette as a female entrepreneur, and Lunar New Year. We hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as we did!

On Love & Relationships:

Coral: When it comes to love, what zodiac signs are compatible with each other? What are some rules of thumb that we should be aware of?

Sara: In Chinese we say, Liu He, meaning you're six zodiac signs apart. If you and your partner are six years apart in age, that's very harmonious. Si Chong, so if you're four years apart, there's a lot of conflict and clashing going on. What's really interesting is in Chinese culture, it's not encouraged for men to marry older women. But if the woman is three years older than the man, that's considered extremely auspicious and very prosperous. That guy will make good money.

Coral: In the Year of the Dragon, like what are some things that we should be aware of?

Sara: If you're born in the Year of the Dragon, then you should be very concerned. Every time that we enter the year that we're born in, that's called Fan Tai Sui. Tai Sui is the god that rules over all these things. Fan Tai means you're clashing with your own zodiac year. For dragons entering the Year of the Dragon, it's going to be their worst year in 12 years, until 12 years later. It's important to wear a lot of red. A lot of friends in China who are dragons will be wearing red underwear.

Coral: Here’s a practical question: What is the etiquette around women paying on a date?

Sara: I get that question a lot. It's so cultural. If you're in Asia, the Middle East, South America, men wouldn't even let platonic female friends pay. Even in the U.S, in the South and the Midwest. It really depends on what you grew up with, because that's your normal. When I hear friends that are upset because maybe what they expected wasn't what the other person delivered, my answer is that that person just has a different normal. Generally speaking, I would say that whoever initiated the date should pay.

Coral: What are some other rules for love?

Sara: Some good rules surround how you put the feng shui around your bedroom. If you're single and you want to be in a relationship, make sure that you have a double bed. You want space for a partner. It’s about preparing for availability. You also don't want your bed to be pushed up against a wall. There should be even space on both sides for somebody to get on the bed from either side. You want the bedroom to be symmetrical. Having pairs of things encourages living like a couple.

On Family:

Coral: How do you politely decline an invitation to a family gathering?

Sara: The only excusable way is to say that you're unwell. I think that was the best thing that came out of COVID. I'm not pretending to be a goody two-shoes, just because I teach etiquette. I like to say I miss manners with a touch of Machiavelli. Sometimes I need to make a last-minute exit or cancel without making a person feel bad.I just say, “I think I'm coming down with something and my colleague just tested positive and the last thing I want is to come and cough all over everybody.”

Coral: How do you avoid burnout and not feel guilty for saying no?

Sara: Boundaries are really important and we should not be afraid to communicate those boundaries. Saying that I just need a night to myself. I think it's important to put ourselves first because if we don't take care of ourselves, we can't take care of anybody else.

On Etiquette:

Coral: What is the proper etiquette of putting a handbag on a table?

Sara: When I went to Swiss Finishing School, they said no bags on tables. Ever. Ever. The reason for that is the bottom of your bag isn't the cleanest part of your bag. If it’s small like The Aria, then when I'm sitting down, I will put it behind me, between the small of my back and the back of my chair. If it’s a larger bag, I put it on a stool or ask for its own chair. You also should not put a clutch on the table. Put it on your lap and then your napkin can cover your lap.

Coral: What do you always have in your bag?

Sara: L'Occitane hand creams, Nuxe lip balm. I'm less of a makeup girl, I'm more of a skincare girl. So I have a lot of preventative skincare stuff. And if I'm carrying a bigger bag, I often have my hot water bottle. I don't drink cold drinks. It's a traditional Chinese medicine thing. I only drink warm or hot.


Have any other questions for Coral or Sara? Comment on our Instagram post and we’ll be sure they get back to you. Happy Lunar New Year!