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Countess LuAnn de Lesseps

The token Real Housewives of New York City aristocrat dishes about proper etiquette, her impending divorce and her Upper East Side world.

If you've ever indulged in the voyeuristic pleasures of watching Bravo's The Real Housewives of New York City, you know that while five of the six ladies live like noblewomen, one literally is one: Countess LuAnn de Lesseps. After marrying Count Alexandre de Lesseps, LuAnn happily placed "Countess" in front of her name, and though she and her husband have recently split, she has no intention of giving it up, as is evidenced by the title of her new book of manners, Class with the Countess. Despite her situation, the mother of two—Victoria, 14, and Noel, 12—is determined to remain poised for the public. The former model chatted with Time Out Kids about staying strong for her kids, the truth behind the show's onscreen cattiness and navigating the ever-changing social circles of Gotham.

Why did you decide to write a book?
People have asked me over and over, "How did you become a Countess?" They seem to want to know about my background, as well as manners and etiquette. I'm asked for advice on everything—what to wear, what to say, how to set the table. So I decided I would address those questions and tell my story at the same time.

Have you always been passionate about etiquette?
Before I even did The Real Housewives, I did a morning spot on Fox about manners and etiquette called "The Countess Culture." Etiquette has always interested me. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, so going to New York, and eventually to Europe, was sophisticated for me. Then, of course, I married into the world of the aristocracy, which made me even more fascinated by behavior.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
It's really all about self-confidence—making people feel comfortable, addressing people and looking them in the eye. It's about your mannerisms. There's even a whole chapter for kids in the book. I think my biggest piece of advice would be to go out of your way to be cordial and civil. Let people go ahead of you. Be humble. Say "thank you" and "please." It's really so basic.

Do your kids have habits that you can't stand?
Oh yeah! I constantly catch my daughter chewing with her mouth open or my son slumping. When they're home, they're not on their best behavior. It's always nice to hear when my kids go somewhere and people say, "Oh, they're so well-behaved." There's not enough praise for manners. Kids are criticized for the things they do wrong instead of praised for what they do right. Parents shouldn't forget that!

On an episode of The Real Housewives, you said that you don't drink from beer bottles. Why?
I just don't think it looks very elegant for a woman to be at a lawn party drinking out of a Budweiser bottle, do you? It isn't very classy.

What does being a countess entail on a daily basis?
"Countess" is a title of honor. The French aristocracy is dead; we all know that. But it is a title that I honor. The de Lesseps family changed the face of the planet. They cut the earth between the oceans to make the Suez Canal. Nobody else in history did that. And they gave the Statue of Liberty to this country. Did you know that? They handed it over to the Americans.

 

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