Lately, my husband and I have been wondering, “Was he/she raised in a barn?” This week, I was particularly reminded that manners in general are going to hell in a hand basket. (And what the hell IS a hand basket?)
Too bad more people haven’t read Miss Manners’ (aka Judith Martin’s) Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, a beacon of civility in an increasingly uncivil world.
As she might tell you, manners aren’t arbitrary rules dictated by some humorless expert; they exist to make people more comfortable. By knowing how to behave you put others at ease and everyone gets along with at least the appearance of grace and mutual respect.
When I was a kid, my parents bought my sister and me copies of a book called Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers. Written by Walter Hoving, former chairman of Tiffany’s of New York, it’s a delightful step-by-step introduction to all the basics, from the moment the meal begins. Sample: “Remember that a dinner party is not a funeral, nor has your hostess invited you because she thinks you are in dire need of food. You’re there to be entertaining.”
Miss M would also insist upon a proper dress code to honor the host’s wishes and the occasion.
Recently, I attended a lovely afternoon interfaith tea, where each of the 10-seat tables had been dressed to the nines (an Old English or Scots expression dating back to the 1700’s, possibly a corruption of “thine eyes”, though no one seems certain). The women were also dressed nicely, in appreciation of the event itself and the time people spent planning it.
Later that evening, my husband and I attended a memorial service at that same synagogue. I’d have thought this would be a more formal occasion than a tea. Nope. Some attendees wore jeans and sneakers and most of the men — including the rabbi– didn’t even bother to put on a yarmulke. Call me a fuddy-duddy but I think death is one of those instances where people should make an effort, especially in a house of worship.
While I’m on my manners hobbyhorse, here are a few personal experiences that get my goat:
– Guests who bring uninvited extra people to a sit-down dinner and don’t even apologize; guests who show up hours late to a dinner party (not an open house); guests who don’t send a “bread and butter” thank-you note or e-mail. Is it just me?
– In December, one guest showed up at his colleague’s black tie holiday party – knowing full well that formality was important to the host – in faded jeans. The implication: “My comfort is more important than your wishes”. My grandmother would have said, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
– And have you ever sent a gift to someone and not received a thank you card or acknowledgment, making you forever wonder whether it arrived, or if they hated it?
– Also on the subject of gifts: There’s a wealthy woman we know who attended the wedding of a young woman who’d worked for her — and whose parents were close friends — who gifted the happy couple with a $20 picture frame she’d probably picked up at the drugstore on the way to the wedding.
Strictly speaking, this might not fall under the heading of “manners” but… isn’t a gift supposed to match the occasion?
I’m not advocating a return to white gloves, bustles, or waiting to the point of silliness for someone to open a door for you. But wouldn’t the world be a little bit nicer if everyone made a bit more effort?