savoir faire 

This French expression savoir-faire literally means "To know how to do"; savoir to know , faire  to do . It is an expression of tact and know-how, ability to act tactfully, knowing what to do. Especially used of behavior in social situations. In Oxford English Dictonary since 1815.  

Example: "Pandora handles that whip with real savoir faire" (Thx Tiefling!)

This is an entry in the mini series about French idioms in the English language.
A French-English translation problem of sorts. As Bigmouth_strikes notes, the usage of this phrase in English generally refers to a particular set of social skills applicable in a rather restricted segment of society. However, when used in French the term has far broader semantic scope: it refers to practical knowledge, such as scientific and technological skills; it has some significance in intellectual property law: "Connaissances techniques, transmissibles, non-immédiatement accessibles au public et non-brevetées, et pour lesquelles quelqu'un serait disposé à payer pour en avoir connaissance" - "Technical knowledge which can be passed on, is not immediately accessible to the public and not patented, and which somebody would be prepared to pay to find out about". (from http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/claudefpascaud/HTM30.HTM)

The usual (hack) English translation of French savoir faire is thus know-how or something like that.

There is however, a parallel French expression, savoir vivre, which means very much that kind of comfort in (high) society which anglophones refer to as "savoir faire"; it is used in English as well, but much more rarely. It is therefore generally best to translate French savoir vivre as English savoir faire, which is a mildly satisfying thing for a translator to be able to do.

Savoir Faire is also the name of a Canadian television show on HGTV which is hosted by Nik Manojlovich. (The show's website gives a pronunciation guide to the handle: Man-oil-of-itch). The show is billed as "the definitive guide to entertaining with elegance and ease."

The show is relatively new and has become a great hit, though I find it insipid. Every half-hour the impossibly enthusiastic Nik takes on a "special occasion" and plans and hosts a swell party. One week it's an Asian theme, and Nik gushes about the cool fans and lacquerware he found in Chinatown, on which he serves dim sum that he whipped up himself. The next, it's Valentine's Day, Nik's favourite, and he's done up the room is a romantic froth of roses and pink tulle, with heart-shaped name tags for each guest and a cake decorated with cupids. To quote from the website again:

From throwing a clambake to choosing the perfect wine, from hosting a romantic dinner to crafting gorgeous gifts, Savoir Faire truly believes there's always good reason to have a great time.

This is serious entertaining, folks, and not for the faint of heart. I don't know anyone who'd throw a party as elaborate as those of Nik Manojlovich, but he seems to think it's the most normal thing in the world to choose a theme for a get-together and hand craft matching party favours. Go figure.

Lots of women love Nik, who's handsome and debonair - and almost certainly gay. He does public events around Toronto that are attended by hoardes of breathless forty-somethings who struggle to follow Nik in making swans out of napkins, something he, but not they, can do without breaking a sweat.

Check out the website at http://www.savoirfaire.ca

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