“Mind Your Manners,” Mom Would Say

I wish I could say – and so does my late mother – that I am utterly shocked at the decline in today’s manners.

She would applaud my disdain – if I could guiltlessly express it – for cell phones in restaurants, unanswered RSVPs and thank-you notes that have been written only in my imagination.

Instead, if she were here, she would suffer. “Where are your manners?” she would demand if she saw me sneak a glance at a text message during dinner. “A lady does not do that,” she would add as I pulled out a lipstick after dessert.

And so in her honor, on what would have been the month of my mother’s 93rd birthday, do I pay homage to the certified etiquette trainer I heard speak at a women’s meeting the other day, who is pursuing a “passion for restoring civility.”

Her message was eerily familiar. In fact, it was all too clear that she was channeling my mother when she repeated the mantra I found terrifying in my childhood: “Our manners are always showing and someone is always watching.”

It made me shiver then and even now, this idea that the slightest slip goes unnoticed.

I imagine word spreading hand to mouth like a nasty virus that in my haste or disorganization I have merely e-mailed a thank-you or roused someone from slumber with a phone call after 9 p.m.

I do not dispute the importance of good manners, not in the slightest. They signify respect and kindness.

And restoring civility is especially important in an age when Facebook allows us to leave invitations in “maybe” status for a period of weeks, even after the event has passed.

I am only distressed at my own seeming inability to keep track of it all – to recall the name that goes with a familiar face, to remember to turn off my cell before the speech, to restrain myself from saying “Hi, Harriet!!” thanks to caller ID, when etiquette requires that she identify herself first and I respond with great pleasure.

Knowing my limitations, I took good notes from the certified trainer on some lesser-known indicators of good etiquette. My hope is that these small touches may be enough to indicate – to the someone who is always watching – that my manners are above reproach.
On personal notes (when I remember to send them), the return address will go on the back flap of the envelope, as opposed to the top left corner of the front. I will write on only one side of the card, date it in the lower left-hand corner, and sign my full name.

My thank-you notes (when I remember to write them) will consist of these four parts: appreciation for the gift, some indication of how I intend to use it, an expression of interest in the giver, and a final exultation of how much I will enjoy it.

And finally, when I leave the dinner table temporarily before finishing, I will not place my napkin on my chair but instead to the left of my plate, folded in such a way that any stains or smudges are hidden from view.

A small price to pay for civility. Mom would be proud.

Copyright 2010 Pat Snyder

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