I was raised with manners. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that if I didn’t show manners as a kid, there would be hell to pay.
My grandmother had a débutante ball. No kidding. When she reached “the age of maturity,” whatever that was, her family introduced her to the proper society of White Plains, New York through a ball. A débutante ball is kind of like a Quinceañera, but with less food, less fun and more white people music.
My grandmother wanted to turn my sister and me into débutantes like she had with our mom before us. Fortunately, my mom put her foot down, probably over expense more than anything. Still, I am ever so grateful that I didn’t have to “come out.” That would have been sheer hell for a shy kid.
Anyway, my point is, my grandmother was a snob, and as such, she was determined to turn her grandchildren into proper young ladies who could be presented to polite society, with or without a débutante ball. She made us read an ancient copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette.
My sister, who had notoriously bad posture, used to have to walk around with that tome balanced on her noggin. She was constantly yelled at for her posture. “Stand up straight!” Every time she was reprimanded, I would instinctively stand up straight, too. As a result, my sister still has imperfect posture, but I stand as straight as a board.
Emily Post taught me which fork to use with which dish, how to set a table properly and how to fold a napkin. I actually know how to fucking curtsy, which will come in very handy should I ever meet the Queen of America.
As much as I hated Ms. Post and my grandmother for jamming all this crap into my head when I was only three feet tall, now, I’m almost grateful that I have this useless information rattling around in there. It makes it so that I can interact with anyone from the homeless dude on the corner to the Queen of America. I am confident in my fork knowledge at even the most black tie of events.
Here are some things Ms. Post taught me that I still do to this day:
- Please and thank you. These seem like ridiculously simple things to say, but not everyone says them. On this one, I’m with Ms. Post; there should be more pleases and thank yous in the world.
- Holding doors. This one isn’t so much from Ms. Post since, in her old-fashioned book, doors were held open for ladies. Ladies shouldn’t ever have to touch a door. How filthy.
- “May I” not “can I.” Any time I started a question with “can I,” my grandmother would say, “I don’t know, can you?” “Can” is for doing. “May” is for asking permission. And dog help me if I forgot to add a “please” at the end.
- I cover my mouth when I yawn, even if I am completely alone. I caught myself covering my mouth when I yawned in my car on the way to work this morning, which is actually what prompted this post.
- Introductions. Ms. Post had a whole rigid rigamarole for introducing people. I don’t follow it to the letter, but if I’m out with someone and run into someone else I know, within the first thirty seconds, I will make introductions, even if I can’t remember someone’s name. I tend to find it rude if I’m out with someone and they don’t introduce me to someone they run into. I’ll introduce myself.
- Thank you notes. I still write them. Even if they’re in the form of an email now, I still write thank you notes, even at work when someone is just doing their job.
- I never go to someone’s house uninvited. If I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll call first and see if it’s alright that I come over.
- If invited, I never go to someone’s house empty-handed. I always ask what I can bring. If the host says “nothing,” I bring something anyway, even if it’s just a bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers.
- If I bring something, it stays brought. If at all possible, I bring things in disposable containers so that I don’t have to worry about getting them back. If that’s impossible, I’ll leave it there and fetch it some other time.
- If I can’t make it, I always let the host know that I won’t be attending, even if it’s last-minute.
- I wait until everyone is seated or everyone has food to start eating, unless the person without food specifically tells me not to wait. And even then, I won’t dig in and eat until their food arrives. I’ll just pick up a solitary French fry and nibble or something just so they don’t have to worry about me not eating on their account.
- When using a knife and fork, I cut one piece at a time. Since I’m left-handed, I use the knife in my left hand. When I’m done cutting, I rest the knife at the top of my plate, switch the fork into my left hand and eat. Repeat until done.
- I pass food around the table to the right, unless someone to my immediate left asks for something. Traffic should always move to the right so there is an easy flow, so sayeth Ms. Post.
- When I am finished eating, I set my utensils together so that the handles are resting on the lower right of the plate, even though I’m left-handed. I never push my plate away from me as it is considered impolite.
- If I eat something funky and want it out of my mouth, I subtly move it onto my fork with my tongue and put it back on the plate. If it went in with a utensil, it comes out on a utensil; if it went in with fingers, it comes out with fingers.
There are a lot more rules that were shoved into my little noggin before it was even done growing, but that’s all I can remember off the top of my head. Some of these rules are sort of ridiculous and old-fashioned, but they are ingrained in me. For the most part, I don’t mind if other people don’t follow these rules, but I do. I can’t help it. I do these things because doing otherwise just feels wrong.
What do you consider good manners?