Recently we went to a wedding and our table of 10 had 4 people at it. The other 6 had decided at the last minute they couldn’t make it. It was the saddest little thing looking at our table with all those empty place settings knowing those meals were all going to waste in the kitchen. You couldn’t even clear away the settings to make it seem like those folks weren’t missing. Our table was deserted. The worst thing is, ours wasn’t the only one like that. The room was spotted with missing guests. I felt terrible for the bride and groom. If you RSVP to something, you’ve made a commitment to be there. Unless you’ve missed your plane or your leg has fallen off or your child is sick, you show up. The hosts have accounted for you in their planning and, in this case, ordered meals, paid for staff, and provided favors with that particular number in mind. To just not make it is incredibly thoughtless.
The thing is, I think thoughtless is becoming the norm. It’s a what’s best for me mentality. And it’s not just a few people. It’s lots of people. It’s half the party we just went to. Half. And it’ll be increasingly difficult to raise you with manners if what’s around you is general rudeness.
Manners are so important Loch, and though they’re becoming a lost art, there is still plenty of appreciation for those that have them. You are a particularly polite boy. You should be I guess, I’m all over you. But the response you get is phenomenal. There’s almost nothing better than a nice, well mannered child. Children are given a lot of slack in the manners department because of their age but when one is polite, it’s a real treat. Adults are expected to know better. Children are expected to be learning. Lately, I think adults could learn a little more.
With the recent rerelease of Emily Post’s iconic “Etiquette” book, there is clearly still a place for proper behavior in our new world. With that in mind. I’d like to go over my list of essentials in the manners department. I’ll refer to it as Millennium Manners. They’re in no particular order.
Table Manners – Your Granny was a stickler for these and I’ll be the same for you. At an early age I had to learn to set the table. Fork on the left. Knife on the right. Spoon on the outside of the knife unless it’s for dessert then it’s acceptable to put it horizontally above the plate. The glass (or glasses) goes above the knife to the right of the place setting. The napkin goes on the left to the side or under the fork (or forks) depending on the formality of the meal or on the plate itself depending on the design of the table. When eating you start from the outermost fork first. Small for salads. Big for Entrees. Small for dessert. Your knife and fork can go to at the 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock on the plate while your eating but when you’re done they go side by side at the 4 o’clock with the knife on top with the blade facing in. This might sound complicated but it’s not. I’m actually finding it more complicated to write it down. Once it’s ingrained in your head you never have to think about it. I actually have a real pet peeve about finishing your meal and not putting your fork and knife together. I’ve been known to reach across and push your Dad’s together. It drives him bananas. To be completely honest I have a hard time not putting my knife and fork together ALL the time. I hate seeing them splayed across the plate. (Super anal, I know.) I’ve confused many a waiter into thinking I’m done with my need for a neat plate.
Napkins go on your lap when you sit at the table not when you start eating. If you get up during the meal, they get loosely gathered and placed to the left of your plate (many leave the napkin on their chair but Ms Post says that’s incorrect). You eat soup by holding the spoon and scooping it away from you rather than towards you. This is a hard one to remember and seems kinda silly with chowders etc. but still, it’s good to be aware of the rules before you break them. Certain foods can be eaten with your fingers – asparagus, ribs, chicken legs/wings but never lick your fingers – or if you do, NEVER put your whole finger in your mouth or do more than 2 fingers at a time – it’s gross. I’m sure Emily would say NEVER but sometimes it happens. Just try and be subtle about it.Granny used to say, “would you eat that way with the Queen?” and I’d say, “When the Queen invites me to dinner, I won’t do this.” Mostly, it was about my sitting with my legs crossed, yoga style, in the dining room (infinitely more comfortable). But no, if the Queen or Kate invited us to dinner I would sit with my feet firmly on the ground and you wouldn’t lick your fingers.
If something in your mouth is gross, it is acceptable to quietly take it out and put it on the side of your plate. You don’t have to hide it in a napkin or, as I was taught, “Take it out the way you put it in.” Do you know how hard it is to spit something back onto a fork? Hard. And gross. I’m not going to teach you to do that. Apparently it is acceptable manners to sop up your plate with bread but you’re supposed to use a fork to do it. I’m going to say, again, it’s good to know the rules before you break them, but if it’s a casual meal at home, don’t bother with the fork, and if it’s a formal meal, maybe don’t do it at all. Elbows on the table are perfectly acceptable when there are no plates but not when you’re eating. At a table of under 8 people it is appropriate to wait until everyone has their food to begin eating. If people say, “please go ahead.” you may. If the table has more than 8 people, you may begin when 3-4 people have been served. I personally think, it’s nice to wait for those around you to have their food. If you and the 2 people at the other end of the table have plates, I don’t think that counts. Feel it out. At a big table you aren’t really eating with everyone anyway, but more with the 4 or so people around you. Keep and eye on them. If they have your food. You can eat. That seems appropriate. Also, always show up on time for big dinners out. That way you don’t get stuck at the end of the table talking to whoever was relegated there – usually random new boyfriends or girlfriends.When you cheers, look people in the eye. I had a dear friend who took that part quite seriously. We used to joke around with her by madly staring into each others eyes – stalker style – to rile her up. But really, she was right and it’s a nice thing to do. As a side note: Do you know why you clink glasses when you cheers? It’s so all 5 senses are incorporated. Taste, Smell, Touch, Sight and then Sound. I always thought that was kind of cool.
Subsequent note on booze: When offering a drink, never ask why or push alcohol on anyone who has declined. You don’t know why their not drinking and it’s not your business. Accept their no and politely offer an alternative.
Don’t eat too fast. Finish the food in your mouth before you speak. If you don’t like something, don’t eat it but don’t mention it either. If pressed on it, answer as kindly as possible. “Didn’t you like the beef?” “I don’t think it was for me.” Asked to be passed things rather than reaching. And taste your food before you salt it. I rarely do this but it’s a good idea. I recently watched a show where one of the characters said he did job interviews over food to see if the potential employee salted his/her food prior to tasting it. To him it meant that the person was set in their ways rather than being attune to the situation at hand and adjusting as needed. I’d never thought of it like that, but there you go. It makes sense. If a waiter is not available, make sure you refresh people’s wine glasses and beverages as needed. Technically, you aren’t supposed to pour your own wine or sake, but very few people know this so don’t get too fussy about it. Never take the last of anything without asking or at least acknowledging you’re doing it. “Would anyone like the last shrimp?” “Would you like another piece of bread?” or if you really want it, do the “If no one wants this last piece of cake, I’m going to go ahead.” Few will stop you. If you are at home or a friend’s, when the meal is over clear the table. The proper way to do this is to start with the women (oldest to youngest) and then do the men. Clear from the right side of the plate so you can control the knife and fork from falling on their laps. And do your own plate last. Most people don’t know this so it might seem like you are just clearing at random, but it is the correct way and older people really appreciate it. When you’re finished your meal you can put your napkin back on the table and thank the host or the cook. Nice manners kid! You make your mama proud.
As a side note to table manners: When eating and drinking in establishments, be nice to your servers and bartenders. I am of the opinion that every North American should have to do at least 6 months in the service industry before they’re 25. Just like Italian citizens used to have to do mandatory military service, we should have to do mandatory waiting on others. Being served is a huge part of our culture and knowing first hand how the other half lives is key to being humble. I never worked in retail but I was a waiter/bartender for 10 years and it’s not all Tom Cruise in Cocktail. You make money. It can be fun. But overall, it’s a soul sucking job that’s both physically and emotionally depleting. There are career waiters and bartenders/mixologists, but for the most part, the people doing it dream of being something else and that’s a tough pill to swallow when someone’s screaming at you over how long it took you to get their Miller Light. If we all knew what it was like to do that job it would give us the perspective that patrons so often need. Having done it myself, I know not to get mad at my server if my dinner is late or badly done. They didn’t cook it. I recognize when they’re in the weeds (overly busy, just trying not to drown) and I’ll cut them some slack on their service during that time. I know that at a busy place the bartender will get to me when they can. I get a space at the bar, establish eye contact, smile and wait. Believe me, they’ll come to me faster than the person yelling at them. Like I said, it’s a s*^# job and they are doing the best they can. Tip 15-20% minimum. Believe me they’re earning it. The only time this isn’t the case is when your server/bartender is rude or incompetent. I am the best and most understanding customer unless you are useless or surly. Then I’m the worst. It doesn’t take much to be fine. To be serviceable. To be polite. But if you are rude or completely blow it on the orders and don’t really care, I’ll be the person talking to your manager and you get a 10% tip, if that. There are too many good actors and musicians out there looking for jobs for that person to be taking one of them.
Also, tip when it’s an open bar. It’s classy and they’re still doing the work even if you aren’t paying for it. That goes for weddings too.
Phone Manners – This is bigger topic than it was in my day as now everyone has a phone on them at all times. I definitely touched on it before in my technology post but the gist is this: Try not to be on the phone (and that includes texting) too much in the presence of a real person. The real person always takes precedence over the virtual person. If you must take a call or respond to a text/email, excuse yourself and, if appropriate, explain ever so briefly why you are doing it. “I just have to let so-in-so know where we’re meeting tonight.” Otherwise your company feels slighted. Maybe your generation will think it’s normal to ignore each other for your phones, but I’m not from your generation, and I want you to know it’s rude. It’s also rude to hang up without saying goodbye or a sign off of some kind. I knew someone who used to just hang up because she felt the conversation was over. I hated it. Hanging up on someone without acknowledgement of an agreed upon end is the height of rudeness. I’m embarrassed to say it is also something I occasionally do when I’m mad to your father. It yields poor results. It is polite to respond to a voice mail within a day even if it’s just by text or email. If someone has left their voice on your system they deserve to be responded too immediately. Do the best you can with emails. I know there’s a lot to go through, but I find it’s most efficient to comb my emails for personal ones first. Even if you’re just saying you’ll get back to them later on something, people like to know they’ve been heard. Finally, somethings should still not be done on the phone/text/social media sites – breakups and condolence calls. In person is the only way for the first and the second is best said in a hand written note.
Thank you cards – Are in the same category as the hand written note which, along with condolence letters, are nice for birthdays and apologies. The hand written note is a time killer for sure but people really like getting them and it’s the nicest way to say thanks. Presents deserve a hand written note. I try to get them out within the week I received them. If you don’t they just pile up and smother you while you sleep. Our wedding thank you’s were kind of like that. I was literally having stress dreams about finishing them. Thank you notes are also great for good meetings and when you’ve been invited over to someone’s house for dinner. Really, just get yourself some nice stationary -don’t roll your eyes, I’ll get it for you if I can – and use it to say thanks. They don’t have to be long, just make them as personal as possible. And when you get married, don’t pawn this job off on your wife. Or if you do, at least be VERY grateful.
On receiving gifts – Always be gracious. Even if you don’t like something you say thank you. Find something positive to say about it. Horrible hat? “Thank you, I just love the color red!”Terrible sweater? “Thank you! I can’t believe you were out shopping for clothes for me! That’s so nice!” People blow it a lot in the gift department. You just have to put a smile on your face, be sincere in your gratitude and hope there’s a gift receipt.
Respecting your elders – Older people have been here longer than you. They’ve seen more than you. They know life better than you. You might be younger and faster and, in all probability, better looking, but you are not smarter. Or if you are, you are not allowed to act superior. Listen with respect. Understand the advice you’re being given is an attempt to help you. To give you perspective that that person’s age has afforded them. Open doors for older people – heck open doors for everyone – give up your seat on the subway, call older men sir – if you can’t call them by name – but be careful of calling older women Ma’am. We all wish we were still a Miss. Let your women and your elders go first into, and off of, elevators and doors. Offer to help carry heavy things or help them into cars. Trust me: Boy scout manners have moved many a man forward.
Driving Manners – Driving manners go hand in hand with safety most of the time but I’m going to give you the highlights anyway. I’m the first to say I’m an aggressive driver. I don’t weave but I’ve been known to find my opportunity and move up. I never cut anyone off. I signal my lane changes – very helpful safety wise as well as being courteous. I let people in when they ask. I drive slowly in residential neighborhoods and parking lots, and when I park, I make sure my car is in only one spot when I get out of it. They actually sell “You suck at parking” business cards to put under peoples windshields now, which leads me to believe there’s a real market for them. Don’t be that guy. Make sure you have enough room to open your door without smashing the car beside you or have them smash yours and make sure you don’t park too close to someone so they have to crawl over their passenger seat like I had to do the other day – Thanks a lot black Avalanche!
Don’t text and drive because it’s not safe, but also because it makes you drive like an erratic freak. The amount of times I’ve said, “What’s this guy’s problem?” and then driven past him to see his/her head in their lap typing away… Don’t follow too close behind the car in front of you. One, if they brake and you’re that close, the unavoidable accident is your fault. And two, it’s annoying and it makes people mad. And mad drivers are bad drivers. Much to your Granny’s horror I am a big proponent of the horn. I think it is only rude if it is laid on unnecessarily. The horn is there to say, “Hey, the light changed.” Beep Beep. or “You can go.” Toot. Or “Dude, watch what you’re doing!” Beeeep! There are very few reasons to lay on a horn. Almost sideswipe me on the highway – yes. Too long at a stop sign – no.
As an off-shoot of driving manners I’d like to discuss pedestrian manners. Yes, a driver should stop for you if you are, say, about to cross the street at a cross walk or a light during a walk sign. The driver should not make a right turn before the folks waiting to walk across the street have cleared the area. But pedestrians should also not jay walk right in front of cars like it is there right to cross wherever they want. Jay walkers do not have the right away. They must wait till there is truly no traffic or until some kind soul sees them ahead and slows down to let them go. Same goes for walking in parking lots. You are in the car’s domain and not the other way round. You yield to them. Walk to the side of the aisles. There is nothing more annoying than driving at 1 mile an hour behind some clueless shoppers meandering up the middle of the parking lot aisle. Move. Out. Of. The. Way. Really it all just comes down to…
General courteousness and having a thought for others – That guy is having a hard time getting out of his driveway onto a busy street? Stop and let him in. The woman behind you has two things to check out at the grocery store and you have 30? Let her go ahead. Pregnant lady getting on a crowded bus? Get up and give her your seat. Don’t wait till the front of the line to figure out what movie you want to see or what you might order off the dollar menu. Look people in the eye when you speak to them. Cover your mouth when you cough. Say “bless you” when someone sneezes. Be a good winner and a good loser. Put the toilet seat down. Use a match. Knock. Be on time. And if you RSVP-ed? You go. It doesn’t matter that something better came up. Leave early if you have to, but you’re going. And please, be understanding of the mother with the crying baby on your plane. Trust me, she’s WAY more miserable than you are.
In short, use your head AND your heart when dealing with others. It’s the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And the words, Excuse me, May I, Please, Thank you and Your Welcome are non-negotiable. Because let’s be honest, when it really comes down to it I want people to say, “What a nice boy that Lochlan is. His mother raised him right.”
I love you darling.
xo your Mom