“A young lady is a female child who has just done something dreadful.”
Judith Martin (Miss Manners)
The Unfinished Man
Being male, I would never have attended a Finishing School. One guesses that men must be impossibly boorish by nature and have no need to learn manners. The Finishing Schools were popular from the mid-1800s to the mid-1990s and much of it was about landing a husband. It was also about manners and how to handle situations in society.
Sure, I’d love to know which fork to use first (start from the outside and work in) or how to respond to an invitation but; at its core, manners are about making those around you comfortable. Or, better yet, behaving in a way to not make those around you uncomfortable.
Good manners are a good thing if the goal is to not make others uncomfortable. The art of shaking hands, making eye contact, learning names and simple smiles can be taught and they should be. Too many today think that saying “thank you” is kissing ass. I’d like to think that Polite Society can be anywhere including the cashier line at Walmart. Those are the classes I’d have liked in Finishing School.
I have sent Thank You notes. Most recent would be to my niece who hosted a large Thanksgiving day party. Feeling that in the chaos of our grand exit that the brief hug and thank you was not enough, I followed it up.
The rules have never been clear enough to me. I do not think a Thank You note is proper after a one-night stand, even if it was with your best friend’s wife. It would have a sort of leering quality to it, if you can imagine receiving one. Our goal is to not make another uncomfortable even though society dictates it should be appropriate.
The Righteous Bless You after a sneeze must be wiped like your nose from our canon of good behavior. After a surprised blast which is embarrassing enough, to hear the hardy “Bless you!” to point out to everyone that it was indeed you now honking into your handkerchief is actually pretty damn rude. And you, numbed beyond belief must acknowledge it with a humbled “thank you”. This must stop!
Pointing out rude behavior must never been done. Watching a man digging at his shiny molars for the last of his dinner with a toothpick is disgusting. While I would never do that to you, I’d never point out to him that it is nasty to watch. One doesn’t make others uncomfortable, right? If you ever hear a society dame try to take you down a peg for your unknown gaffe at the rules, know that she wallows in the sty as well. That broad ain’t got no class.
Our structures have taken a beating. Calling our boss or teacher or a politician by their first name doesn’t show respect that their title deserves. That it is encouraged by the empowered makes us all the more careful of our wallets; these people are our leaders but not our friends.
Manners can be a tool, imagine the honed diplomat from China with thousands of years layering those negotiating tools; by being made comfortable one might easily sell out the US of A. Couth must be matched with couth or risk the future of our country.
As I learned from my parents: please and thank you!