Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Manners Made Easy

by Carrie B.

Today's society doesn't really do etiquette anymore. We're all about being "casual" and "laid back." Rules and regs for interacting with others make us feel stifled and cause us to feel unnatural. Now, I'm not suggesting that we make a backyard BBQ a formal affair, but I think there is something to be said for understanding what manners are and how to execute them properly.

Showing respect towards other people shouldn't be optional. After all, there is a Biblical command to 'to do others what you would have them do to you' (Luke 6:31) and so I think it's important that we understand that there is polite way of treating others. You can show people, by your interactions with them, how much you value and honor them as people. (And, for the record, I'm preaching to myself here!!!) A display of good manners can be a mighty powerful thing!

"Our good manners show consideration for the feelings of others, while our bad ones reveal thoughtlessness and rudeness." ~ June Hines Moore

There are a few things to keep in mind when you are both extending and accepting hospitality and I thought it would be interesting to talk about what is considered to be proper manners as we interact with others. These tips are taken from Manners Made Easy for the Family: 365 Timeless Etiquette Tips for Every Occasion, by June Hines Moore. (I have previously reviewed some other books on etiquette that you might want to check out over at 5 Minutes for Books if you are looking for resources on this particular topic.)

Some tips from the book to ponder:

1. You learn manners at home - with your family. If you want to feel comfortable both giving and receiving hospitality - and you have small children - the best place to train them is at home, in private. You know what I'm talking about. Learning how to treat others when dining at the table, for instance, starts at home. How do we speak to each other as a family when we are sitting down for dinner? Do we let our little ones belch out loud, grab food from other people's plates, inform the cook very loudly that they do not like the meal that they are being served? A great way to practice hospitality is by learning how to be hospitality at home - alone. (I know wherefore of what I speak. I have a three year old. Boy.) Develop good habits and there will be little to nothing to worry about when others join you.

2. Practice connecting with others and making a good first impression. When you meet someone, meet and maintain eye contact with them. Extend a hand in greeting and, if you don't think it will positively kill you, add a friendly smile. You can honestly put people at ease if you show confidence in an introduction. It is not a requirement that you be one of those 'outgoing personalities' in order to put someone else at ease. Sacrifice yourself on the alter of friendship and hold steady with your gaze and friendly expression. I don't know about you gals, but I always feel tremendously awkward and ill-at-ease when I've met someone who won't look me in the eye or mumbles their introductory greeting to me. I tend to respond in one of two ways: a.) I try to get away from them as fast as I can to save us both the pressure of feeling awkward or b.) I over compensate.

For the record: I am not tremendously outgoing. But I do think it's important to establish a good first connection as that will help ease everyone into communications with one another.

Practical tip: If you are uncomfortable maintaining eye contact, look at different areas of the person's face. Quickly look at their mouth and then back up the eyes. Never leave their face (and don't stare at blemishes, obviously!) but train yourself to stay focused on the person in front of you.

"Handshakes are the physical greetings that go with your words." ~ Anonymous

3. This one is a tough one where I live - but children should be taught to address their elders with respect. I have to admit some degree of shock when I arrived in Oregon and heard children addressing adults by their first name. I was raised in the South and that just didn't happen.

What do you do in today's society where "Mr. and Mrs." are no longer a stiff requirement? When I was growing up, most ladies went with "Miss." For example, I would be "Miss Carrie" to the young'uns today. That is what I require from my children. I can never go the full Oregonian route and let my kids go around addressing every adult they see by their first names. At the same time, the culture has kind of made Mr. and Mrs. too formal. So I go with "Miss" and Mr." I feel like that's a good compromise for location and good manners. Either which way though - I think it's super important that children recognize the difference between kids and adults. Teaching the little ones honor is not a bad thing. Really, it's not!

4. Notice that people have different personalities. Some are more gregarious than others. Out of polite respect - if you are one of the gregarious ones - don't believe that everyone else is. Furthermore, if you are shy - don't expect everyone else to speak in whispers around you. Find a middle ground. Be friendly and confident, but reign part of your dazzling personality back if you are a less sedate person.

My personality is somewhat mixed. In some situations I'm super outgoing and friendly. But I have to feel very safe in order to be so. Otherwise I wish myself to be wallpaper, if not the wall itself. Gauge the situation. Practice paying attention to how other people are relating to you and try your best to match your greeting to theirs.

I kinda think this is common sense but I've been bounded at by individuals who don't seem to get the message that I'm in a quiet mood. Bottom line: pay attention. Make sure your greetings involve a true connection to the person standing in front of you and try to put them at ease.

5. Dress appropriately. Today's society likes to indulge in shock value that is oftentimes inappropriate. If you move in conservative circles, there is certainly less worry that you are going to see more of a person than you really want to. However, we conservative types have a different problem. I've noticed that it can become an issue over which females always appear in dresses and skirts, and which prefer to wear pants. Try not to let this be an issue! A good rule of thumb is to ask a kind question at some point, inquiring as to what the position of the other person is when it comes to dress and how they arrived at their conclusion. Asking questions is a good way to learn about another person, if your questions are presented in a respectful manner.

Who knows? Maybe they'll change your mind!

But the bottom line is: dress appropriately for the situation and strive for modesty. You'll never offend someone by erring on the side of modesty. Dressing well shows a respect for others.

More says in the introduction to Manners Made Easy that: "We put rules of etiquette in our head, and we put manners in our heart. The rules in our head guide our behavior and keep us from embarrassing ourselves. The manners in our heart keep us from embarrassing someone else."

I think that puts it well. Be polite makes good sense on the whole. Manners can maintain or save relationships that are always at a risk of being broken. Interacting with people can be confusing at times, but if you put the effort in, I think you'll find that the friendships created and developed are well worth whatever sacrifices must be made on your part.

Meet people half way and be genuine. Treat them, not as you are, but as you would want to be treated: with respect!


  1. Lot's of great ideas here!!! Let's see..

    #1. You learn at home. SO VERY TRUE! We always have supper together at our kitchen table without a tv. As a result I can take my children to any restaurant and not worry about their behavior. (Except for the 20 month old, still working with him on some things.) We require our kids to say please and thank you at the table and to use those words with our servers at restaurants. Currently we are working on NOT making complaining sounds or words when you don't like supper. One of my children missed a meal last week because she complained twice. It may sound harsh but missing one meal won't cause her to starve and it did teach her (and her brothers!) a lesson.

    #3. Using Mr. and Mrs. It varies for us. Most of the time my kids call my peers Mr. and Mrs. but we have some friends through church who we met when they were college students. Those are called Mr/Miss and their first name. We also us Miss Lauren for our teenaged babysitter. We feel it's important for our kids to have and show respect to adults or those in authority over them.

  2. Agreed on all points.

    Bravo on the rules about not complaining about the meal. Indeed it will NOT hurt her to miss that meal.

    I know i'm a good bit older, but we were certainly taught that. When I was little, my grandma, who was Hungarian, made some very different (!) types of food. We were required to take "one bite." I believe it made us more adventurous eaters. And that's what i taught my kids, too.

    We lived overseas in several cultures, and did not want our children offending any hosts over the food. So they were required to take the one bite, with no negative comments or faces. After that, they could politely decline seconds. Both my kids became excellent eaters. I think the parent sets the tone.

    When mine were young, we babysat kids of friends for ? at least 5 days while they were out of town. Mom told me: they don't eat crusts; they don't eat hot cereal; they don't eat ... you name it.

    She was shocked upon return to hear that they had indeed eaten the despise items. Partly my expectations, party the example of my children, and partly my attitude of "this is what we have; if you are hungry, you'll eat it."

    Who teaches a kid to not eat bread crusts? The child does not naturally say "I don't like the crust." No, mom or dad begins that habit.

    Japanese kids eat salad, rice, fish at breakfast -- it's all cultural and expectations. An American mom would say "EEEEWWWW!" -- but really, what mom presents is what they know to eat.

    I am so blessed and thankful for a husband who is not a fussy eater. I hear from other wives, "My husband only eats hamburgers and corn." Who allowed him to become that way? His mom and/or dad!

    I knew i did not want to inflict that hardship on my son's future wife!! So, for dads and moms who are fussy eaters, try to be more open, if only for the sake of less stress in your offspring's future marriage! (There's enough other things to stress over!!)