I don’t know what caused it. Maybe it was the year of home schooling. Maybe it was my parents’ non-traditional lifestyle. Maybe it was the fact that we moved every few years. I still don’t know. But somewhere along the way, I failed to develop some social skills. Now don’t get me wrong, I know how to shake hands, say goodbye and chew with my mouth closed. But there are still some little knickknacks of etiquette that never made it on my shelf.
That’s where June Hines Moore comes in (big trumpet sound). She recently penned a book that’s been helping to polish my interactions with others. Moore is author of Social Skills Survival Guide: A Handbook for Interpersonal and Business Etiquette. In it, she offers insight into all those little things your parents, friends and coworkers never told you.
Moore says that there is a reason for every rule of etiquette. All those little rules are actually intended to make life easier and more comfortable as we try to do the kindest thing in the kindest way. For example, it’s for safety’s sake that a man precedes a lady down stairs. That way, he can catch her if she falls. Or it’s for practical reasons that beverage glasses are properly placed on the right of each dinner, because the majority of the population is right handed. Or it’s for healthy relational reasons that two people are introduced by name so they can converse with one another more readily.
“We put etiquette rules in our head and manners in our heart,” Moore writes. “Together they keep us from embarrassing ourselves or someone else. The rules give us confidence and the manners tell us when to break or ignore a rule if the other person would be made uncomfortable.”
Moore says there are some specific rules twentysomethings tend to break or ignore:
– Not responding to an R.S.V.P.
– Not writing thank you notes.
– Not identifying themselves when making a phone call.
– Failing to introduce people/claiming to forget someone’s name. (An effort should be made even if we must admit we can’t remember.)
– Not returning phone calls within 24 hours.
– Talking on their cell phones inappropriately in public.
– Wearing caps in restaurants.
– Using toothpicks in public.
– Failing to offer to pass food or condiments to tablemates in a restaurant.
– Bringing a friend to a party you are invited to when the invitation doesn’t say “and guest” or without checking with the hostess first.
I have to admit that I’m guilty of doing some of these from time to time. Now mind you, I don’t do any of them intentionally, but sometimes I get too busy, and a phone call or R.S.V.P. falls through the cracks. Maybe you do too.
Some of the rules Moore highlights are bit surprising. Did you know there is a rule of proximity? We should stand at least 18 inches from the person we are talking to. Did you know it’s okay to eat fried chicken with your hands? That is, if you are on a picnic or in a fast-food restaurant, you may use your hands, but if the hostess uses a fork and knife, or if there is a tablecloth such as we see at a banquet, you should use your knife and fork. Did you know that while that the old rule of the man initiating a date is still the more common practice, but if a young lady asks a guy to her high school prom or a business woman invites a gentleman to her office Christmas party, she is expected to pay the expenses? Ouch.
Fortunately, there are some rules of etiquette that are a bit more slack for our generation. These include:
– Men no longer have to wait for a lady to extend her hand. He can initiate the handshake. (The old custom came from men kissing the lady’s hand when she offered it.)
– We have business cards, but we no longer need calling cards because we can telephone for an appointment or a date. (Before telephones, a gentleman caller went to the young lady’s front door and presented two of his calling cards, one for the girl and one for her mother before asking to see the lady he wanted to court.)
– Men no longer must remove their hats and awkwardly maneuver their way to the back of the elevator. If a man happens to get on last and is near the entrance, he steps off first and holds the door for others exiting. If a woman is near the entrance, she does the same.
The good news is that anyone with a little extra effort can improve their etiquette—even me.