In a world filled with smart phones, video chat, social media, texting, LOLs, and OMGs our mannerisms and manners are rapidly changing. The idea of etiquette has become a distant thought for both men and women. It wasn’t until I started looking around that I realized our behavior and manners are starting to gap, to separate, especially in women.
When I was a child, my mother always told me, “pretty is as pretty does”. My mother wanted my inner beauty to truly shine through, thus I had the manners of a saint. Well, a young, immature child saint, that is. Proper etiquette outlined every lesson in my childhood. “Please” and “thank you” was a must in my home. I was never to say, “Can I have this ice cream bar?” it was always, “May I have an ice cream bar, please?” I never addressed an adult by anything but, Miss, Mr. or Mrs. ____ (enter last name here). If I was directed by that adult, (say her name is Anne) to “Please, call me Anne.” I was then allowed to call her Miss Anne or Mrs. Anne. In conversation, I was told never to say, “What?” when I did not hear someone say something, but rather say, “Excuse me?”, “Pardon me?” or “I’m sorry?”.
During socialization, I was to always share my toys, and to never be greedy, jealous, or angry of my friends during playtime. If I did act in an unfriendly manner, I was removed from play and had to spend the rest of the time alone (the obvious lesson there was if I did not respect my friends, I would lose them). I was to never demonstrate a feeling of entitlement either. For instance, just because I received a treat after school one day, that did not mean I was going to receive one every day. Just because my friend had a specific toy, did not mean I was to have one as well.
The dinner table was no exception. I had a seated family dinner every night. No TV allowed. When my mother told me dinner was ready and asked me to get my father or sister, I was not to yell down the hall, but physically go get each of them. Once at the table, my napkin was to be on my lap, elbows off the table, legs or ankles crossed, and my utensils by my plate until everyone was seated and served. I was not to talk with my mouth full of food, I was not to shovel my plate clean, and I definitely was not allowed to eat with my hands, unless the meal called for it. I was to stay seated at the table until everyone was finished with their meal. After our dinner time together was over, I was to say, “That was a very lovely dinner, thank you. May I please be excused?” Upon being formally excused, I then of course I carried my plate into the kitchen.
While my mom’s strict lessons regarding my manners and etiquette may seem a little obsessive and over the top, every single one of them has helped to shape me in to the woman I am now. At the time, I was constantly exasperated with her requirements, often saying “pleeeeeaasseeee” with a moan, or “thatwasaverylovelydinnerthankyoumayIbeexcused?” in a hasty mumble. Now however, I am utterly grateful. There isn’t a day that goes by where I do not notice someone declare, “I want”, “I’ll take”, “can I” and “gimme” without “please” or “thank you” anywhere in sight.
Unfortunately etiquette is near dead. Cell phones now sit next to silverware, and when an incoming message pops up, it doesn’t matter who is sitting with you, that text, tweet, or Facebook message has now taken precedence over present company. The smacking of lips, talking with full mouths, and sitting in front of a TV or computers during meal times has become the norm, not to mention the lack of compliments to the chef or waiting for your dinner mates to finish before exiting the table.
However, what is most disturbing now days is the sense of entitlement pulsing through our culture. We are surrounded by Jersey Shore and Real Housewives types, where we are slowly learning three kinds of behaviors: 1. If you want it, you deserve it. 2. If you have money to pay for it, you deserve it. 3. If all else fails, scream, yell, swear and bite, and you will get it. This scenario plays out on TV over and over again, and while we all love ourselves a good Snooki-style train wreck, this message is still being absorbed and spread throughout society, and playing out in our personal and professional lives.
Values have shifted. Our manners towards one another have slipped away. Or respect for one another is dwindling. So the question is, how do we regain our practice of proper etiquette and manners towards one another? Simple, by starting to practice it ourselves. We need to pay attention to how we eat. Make a point to have a meaningful conversation. Listen to our tone and how we choose to address individuals. Don’t interrupt or attack someone’s opinion without paying respects first (be especially mindful of this on social media), and pick our battles wisely. Drop the “I want” and “Gimmes”, and keep in mind that just because you worked hard, you have the money, or you just want it doesn’t mean you deserve it.
Personally, I am going to make a valiant effort to practice my manners, showing respect to those around me, demonstrating I appreciate their face time (whether it is their actual face or Facebook), have the definition of kind define part of me, and truly be beautiful in my every mind, manner, word and thought. Now when I walk outside in my favorite lipstick and stilettos, I’ll know I’m helping in bridging the gap in lack of societal manners today just by minding my “please” and “thank yous”.