An introduction to manners, etiquette

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 4, 2003

Since I fancy myself somewhat of a modern-day &uot;Southern Belle,&uot; I have decided I would dedicate my column to the importance of manners and proper etiquette. You may be asking yourself what makes a &uot;belle&uot; a &uot;belle&uot;? Well, gentle reader, let me inform you that being a &uot;belle&uot; is part grace and part moxie – but it is 100 percent attitude. You know what you want – you know how to get it – and along the way, you use your gentle graces, southern charm and Victorian upbringing to ensure your wishes are realized.

But there is also the side of being a &uot;belle&uot; that is derived from one’s knowledge of people, politics and the &uot;proper&uot; way to of doing things.

For example, I could properly set a 13-piece place setting and mix a mean martini long before I could tie my shoes. ‘At a very young age, I was taught the importance of saying &uot;Yes ma’am&uot; and &uot;No sir.&uot; This &uot;belle&uot; learned early on that if one’s elbows were on the table while eating – it was a forgone certainly the threat of no dessert would follow.


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Perhaps as a child I did not appreciate what my parents and grandparents were trying to instill. What is the big deal if you eat with your elbows on the table? Who cares if you use the salad fork instead of the dinner fork?

Well, I have the answer: everyone! We are all judged by others. From the moment we are introduced to a stranger for the first time, we are judged. How we look, how we talk,

how we carry ourselves and – yes folks, our manners – are all up for judgment by others.

Do we say &uot;please&uot; and &uot;thank you&uot;? Do we ask rather than demand? Do we sit up straight? Do we extend our hand for a firm handshake or just shrug and say &uot;hey&uot;? People notice how we interact and treat others. It saddens me to see how many adults today set such poor examples for their children. &uot;Please&uot; and &uot;thank you&uot; are not in their vocabularies, and common courtesy is not extended to friends and neighbors.

For example, there is a family who lives in my neighborhood who has two teenage boys. These boys do not cause any trouble and are probably very nice kids overall. However, the parents let the kids hang out on the street or in their garage playing music until midnight or later. I don’t mean to sound old and crotchety at the ripe old age of 30 – but midnight is far past my bedtime and I require all the beauty rest I can get (of course, true &uot;belles&uot; know beauty comes from Dillard’s cosmetic counter – but I digress).

I have another neighbor who likes to cut his grass at 7 a.m. every Saturday. I guess it does not occur to him his dirt does not need trimming that often, and that some folks like the rare pleasure of sleeping in an extra hour.

Then on a recent trip to Wal-Mart, the cart collector stood in the doorway blocking the passage of customers for over 10 minutes so he could chat with one of his friends. Forget that this is poor customer service and perhaps a fire hazard; it’s just rude. Didn’t anyone ever tell this guy you should get out of the way and let others pass? Clearly not!

I recently attended a dinner party with friends. Can I tell you how few of my peers honestly knew double-dipping in the chip dip is a faux pas? Like I want cooties from an unfamiliar mouth! I really don’t event want cooties from a familiar mouth! Yuck!

Finally, what is up with folks not knowing the value of personal space? I have a &uot;bubble&uot; that defines my personal space and you have a &uot;bubble&uot; that defines your personal space. Is it so hard for people to understand that you can’t just go around popping other people’s bubbles?

Stay out of my stinking bubble when I am at the ATM machine or in line at the grocery store. Just back off! I will get my cash and my olives and be on my way soon enough. Getting within two inches of my face won’t make things go any faster.

Alas, I leave you with this thought to ponder: Most nights, I won’t have to decide which of the five forks next to my plate to use for salad. And rarely will I set my table with a 13-piece place setting.

But I do live every day confident that I know how to handle myself in most any situation.

I know I would be equally comfortable eating dinner at the White House or at the International House of Pancakes. And regardless of whether I was having surf-and-turf with the President or my favorite BLT at IHOP, you can rest assured this &uot;belle&uot; would have the good grace and common courtesy to say thank you to whomever brought my food.

And so should you!

Rebecca Hill is the advertising director of the Suffolk News-Herald.