The gentle mind by gentle deeds is known. For a man by nothing is so well betrayed, as by his manners.
Lately, I have been inundated with Etiquette Emergency emails about boorish behavior for some of the most basic adult interactions. Please take a moment and answer these questions:
- Do you address everyone by his or her first name?
- Do you assume everyone remembers your name?
- Do you ask "Why?" when someone declines your invitation to lunch?
- Do you begin to eat as soon as your plate is filled?
- Do you blow your nose at the table?
- Do you split the bill when you have asked someone out to eat?
- Do you ask if it was "planned" when a woman announces she is pregnant?
- Do you say "No problem" when someone says, "Thank you?"
- Do you presume your presence is enough when invited to someone's home?
- Do you chew gum, wear a baseball hat or answer your cell phone in an enclosed public space?
Formal First ~ Just as it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed, so to should an individual's name default to their formal address. This means that when meeting someone new, you should address him or her by a title (such as Mr., Ms., or Dr.) and their last name. Once the individual has given you permission to call them by their first name, you may do so. If they do not grant you permission for a more casual name, you must continue to address them by their proper title. A rule of thumb for children is to address all women with "Ma'am" and all men with "Sir" until told to do otherwise.
A Legend In Your Own Mind ~ While you may be famous in your own circle of friends and family, you cannot and should not assume everyone else knows your name. When meeting someone for the first, second or twelfth time, do not leave them guessing. Always offer your name and, if you can, a reference as to how you know each other.
Abbreviated Answers ~ One of the things I love about etiquette is that we do not always need to share all of our information. If you ask someone to lunch and they decline, but do not counter-offer (i.e. "I would love to but I am busy that day, can we make it Tuesday?"), you can presume they are not interested in spending time with you. To ask them for a reason why they do not want to spend time with you is uncomfortable at best and could be painful at worst.
Simon Says ~ When eating with others, you should wait for a signal before beginning your meal. If you are with a group of friends, you should wait until everyone has been served. If you are someone's guest, you should wait until the host/hostess begins his/her meal. If you are attending a function, you should wait for a welcome, invocation, or blessing by the organizer. The only item on the table you may touch in advance is your water. Everything else (bread, wine, salad, etc.) must wait.
No Sharing ~ Please keep your germs to yourself. If you need to blow your nose, excuse yourself from the table and find a restroom. If your nose is a bit runny, you may daintily wipe it on a handkerchief while still seated. Your napkin is not a handkerchief. To blow your nose, you must leave the table.
Pay Your Way ~ When you do the asking, you do the paying. This is true both for personal and professional meals. If a group of friends or work colleagues decide to meet for a meal, then each should pay for their portion of the bill. But when you ask someone to join you, you become the host/hostess and you pick up the tab.
Planned Parenthood ~ When someone announces they are pregnant, the correct response is "Congratulations!" If they wish to discuss the timing of this child, they will bring up the topic.
Gracious Gratitude ~ The correct response to "Thank you" is "You are welcome." Variations such as "You're welcome" or "It was my pleasure" are also acceptable. My personal pet peeve is when purchasing something at a store, the clerk hands me the bag with a "Here you go." This puts me in the position of having to thank the clerk for actually giving me my purchase instead of the clerk thanking me for my patronage.
Arriving Empty ~ When invited to someone's home, whether it be for a play date or a formal dinner, you should always have a gift for the host/hostess. The gift should be commensurate with the event. A bottle of wine would be a bit much for a play date, just as sidewalk chalk would be inappropriate for a formal dinner. But you should never arrive empty handed.
Beyond The Golden Rule ~ It used to be said, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Then things changed. Those with boorish behaviors proudly proclaimed "But I don't mind when people ____." They then used this as a justification for their own bad manners. Chewing gum, wearing a baseball hat and talking on a cell phone are all great things to do when outdoors and/or alone. When indoors in or a confined public space, please properly dispose of your gum, remove your hat and turn off the ringer on your cell phone.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I have been dating a lovely man who has a kind heart and treats me well. The problem is that his manners are just atrocious. I am embarrassed to be seen with him publicly. Should I break things off?
A: It depends. Since you are clearly fond of this man, perhaps you should see how he responses to some gentle coaching. If he is willing to learn, then you should considering keeping him. If, however, the mention of manners sets him into a tizzy, then you will need to consider whether an isolated-indoor life with this man is for you.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ My otherwise well-mannered wife has a horrible habit of speaking with her mouth full of food. What can I do?
A: Setting a good example is the first step. Then, when she begins to speak with her mouth full, softly remind her, "Sweetie, swallow first." Every time she opens her mouth to say anything during the meal, remind her, "Sweetie, swallow first." Eventually she will realize that you keep saying this to her and she will begin to internalize the message.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ The office in which I work has always been a very casual place, but recently manners have been on a real decline. The new manager barks orders at us and screams from his office when he wants something. This has made me, as well as the rest of the staff, very anxious. He is my boss, and I would rather not quit. How can I encourage civility when things are getting difficult?
A: During stressful situations we have the choice of pulling together or falling apart. The first thing you can do is to set the tone for the office by using the magic words of "Please" and "Thank you." You should calmly and politely maintain the high ground. So, for example, if he screams at you from his office, walk to his door and in a calm voice say "I am so sorry, I could not hear you. How can I help?" In situations like this, it can be helpful to think of yourself as an actor playing a part. If the office environment deteriorates significantly, you may want to consider bringing in someone from human resources to help your boss with his people skills.