June 6, 2012 by Judith Liebaert
What in blue blazes has happened to manners and polite gestures in this country? I know, I know, every generation that ages to the top of the hill has had the same complaint. This fact gives me little comfort. Rather, it gives me great cause for concern. Is this century’s long downward spiral of social niceties and simple decorum leading to our demise as a civilized species?
What has happened to protocol? When did Miss Manners go missing? And where in the world is Emily Post? Is this yet more collateral damage of a crumbling economy? Have the mavens of good manners fallen victim to job cutbacks?
Where are all the overbearing, bossy aunties and grumpy uncles? What about the finger wagging grandma and grandpas that put us in our places when we got a little too “cheeky” or “fresh”? Have these snowbirds flown the coop, and will those of us left behind be pecked to death in an onslaught of rudeness?
I say, “No, gosh darn it!” If we don’t want to watch future generations degenerate into a society of grunting ape-like buffoons, we must call forth and embrace our inner etiquette vigilantes. Volunteer now. Join the ranks of the Politeness Police! Please.
I’m doing my part. I have planned a strategic defensive to nip rudeness in the bud, starting with telephone talk. No longer will I patiently wait through an interrupted phone conversation when a friend’s call waiting beeps. It’s bad enough that businesses subject us to their idea of pleasant on-hold music; I don’t need to cool my heels with the dead silence of a friend’s phone in my ear. From now on when said friends asks if I can hold while they take another call, I will simply and politely say, “No thank you. Call me back when you are finished with your more important conversation.”
Nor will I conduct any more in person conversations with somebody suffering from nose-in-smart-phone-syndrome. I don’t care if they are talking, texting, tweeting or cyber cheating. If they can’t disconnect from their virtual scene long enough to engage in a real-world social encounter, I’ll leave them to their sophomoric simulated life.
In an effort to be the change I want to see in the world, I have planned an offense strategy as well. It begins with remembering to always say please and thank you. Yes, we all learned that in kindergarten, if not before, but I think refresher courses in the art of being humble and expressing gratitude are in order.
If somebody holds a door open for me, I always say “Thank you,” with a big smile. When I open the door for others, or hold it open for somebody close behind me after I’ve passed through, I notice that there is a bout a 50/50 chance I’ll even be acknowledged (see Nose in Phone Syndrome above).
Don’t get me started on fast food and how it has ruined table manners. I’ll just mention what should be common knowledge. Don’t talk with your mouth full (it probably bears notation here that full is a relevant term and means any amount of food in your mouth). Don’t chew with your mouth open. Put your napkin in your lap and don’t just let it sit there – use it. Spoons and forks are handy utensils; they keep your fingers clean. Of course, there are acceptable finger foods (snacks like chips and peanuts, some hors d’oeuvres, and fried chicken or BBQ ribs – but only at a picnic) but, please, do not lick your fingers, lips or chin (see napkin usage above).
At potlucks and buffets put less on your plate than you think you might eat (this isn’t a contest and there are no trophies for balancing the highest tower of food in one trip). You can go back for seconds if there is enough—after everybody has eaten once.
No double dipping, and do not take a bite of food then return it to a communal serving dish. You’d think that would be a no brainer, wouldn’t you? I mean, if you’ve ever raised or cared for children, didn’t you teach them that? “If you touch that cookie you have to take that one.” Or, “If you take a bite and don’t like something, leave it on your own plate or throw it away.”
Recently I was performing in a community production honoring our local Armed Forces Veterans and those currently serving. For the finale, we planned to sing several verses of God Bless America, walking down into the audience to shake hands and offer flowers and treats.
I had a plate of brownies ready and when I offered them first to those on stage with me (it was supposed to be a “party” scene), not one, but two of my fellow cast members took a bite, didn’t like it, then PUT THE BROWNIE BACK ON THE PLATE. One even told me if I didn’t like what she’d done (which I had already made perfectly clear I didn’t) I could put it in my pocket. When I declined, she stuffed it down my shirt and laughed.
Now, I’m all for good fun and our little community performances are a lot like amateur night on the Carol Burnet show – lots of slapstick and pratfalls – but, seriously, did she think that was okay?
Since she thought it was for fun, and all part of the act, I thought about upstaging her and smacking her in the face with the rest of the plate – but that wouldn’t have been polite of me, now would it?
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