Manners Do Matter

By Crystal Tingle

So, this is our social life with other families when our children are included:

Do you hear them? The crickets I mean. That’s because there ARE NO social outings or dinner parties with them!  Or at a maximum, it’s minimal.  You know, only when required and with LOTS of pre-game coaching!  Why? Because we fear them! We live with them! We know them! How they eat! How they fight! Eye contact and handshakes?  Whattttt??? Scary!

So, it goes like this.

“Did you explain to the kids to be sociable? They are to come out of their rooms and hang out. You told them that, right? And did you tell them to say hello to everyone and ask how they are doing and make eye contact? And did you tell them to not stay on the X-Box the whole time…I mean, they need to go outside and hang also, right? And they know to not pick up their salad with their fingers, right?”

I am sharing this personal information only because I KNOW I am not the only one who feels that way. You know who you are! Although, I do meet the occasional child or teen and I think to myself, “Wow! What a well-mannered, well-spoken young person.” And when I compliment the parents, they look at me like a deer caught in the headlights and respond,  “My child?” That makes me chuckle. 

But as progressive as our world has gotten, good manners should always be a constant, especially if you live in the South.  And despite my present-tense rendition above, my husband and I did recently enroll our older two boys in an etiquette class for middle and high school youth hosted by the National League of Junior Cotillions because, well, we felt that maybe if someone else taught them, they would comply and become somewhat presentable.  The classes were held once a month on Sunday afternoons throughout the school year for an hour and a half each class, making it easy and minimal to position into already-busy schedules. 

But, according to them, they loathed every minute of it. They were required to dress in khaki pants, a dark jacket, a tie and dress shoes. I mean, really? The atrocity of having to wear such formal clothing! This makes me chuckle. I remember a time when shorts and jeans were never allowed in proper settings such as church or a dance. I had to wear a nice dress with pantyhose and white or black patent leather shoes!  Do we still even call them pantyhose anymore? Can you even still buy them? It’s so funny to me that this generation thinks a pair of dark-colored jeans with no holes is considered dressing up. The young ladies were required to attend with appropriate dress as well, but they didn’t seem to mind as much. 

But, despite the flack we got after each class, they enjoyed it! I know this how? Because the director of our cotillion did a very smart thing.  She required the parents to attend and volunteer at least once during the course of the classes. This was brilliant because we got to actually see that they weren’t being whipped into shape with a cane pole. What I saw looked completely different from the horrific story we were fed from the unified front of our two older offspring. As you would expect, the girls were all in, poised, excited and dressed to the nines and looking rather beautiful.  The boys sort of scuffled in, fixing their ties and tucking their shirts, but once it began, they were just as present as the girls, although they wouldn’t admit it.  

The class was structured to cover a variety of “appropriates” and “how-to's” at the beginning, and always ended with dance instruction from the fox trot to line dancing. I mean, who doesn’t like to line dance? Proper greetings were demonstrated, from the ordinary encounter to those of more distinguished title, authority and position, and then put into practice by the students.  Dining etiquette from a casual restaurant to a five-course meal was also taught and applied when the class ventured outside the normal meeting room to a formal restaurant and the symphony afterward.  Other appropriates such as proper handshakes and good eye contact were taught as well.  It was a very well-rounded program and all looked like they had fun throughout.  I think boys just innately have to “appear” to be disinterested in matters of manners. It must be like a “guy-code.” Despite any admissions or omissions from them, the classes were invaluable and priceless yet very affordable to all, with the purpose and intent to recapture the lost charm of manners and proper etiquette. 

So, if you have felt my pain, or even if you have a teen who doesn’t need a complete overhaul but simply a tweak here and there, I encourage you to look into one of the cotillion or etiquette classes offered along the Emerald Coast. We attended the NLJC directed by Joan Freeman because it was close to home and came highly recommended. There is another cotillion that came just as highly recommended for middle and high school instruction of etiquette and has been around for quite some time, Blue Ribbon Cotillion directed by Lucy Knight. Her program structure and meeting days/times are very similar to the one we attended, except her classes are held off of Okaloosa Island if that location is a better option for you.  You might even be an adult looking to improve your social skills for promotion or advancement at work or in relationships.  It is NEVER too late! Allyson Gordon with Ladies and Gentlemen Etiquette Classes provides an adult program containing the "50 dos and don’ts of proper etiquette” in everyday life, as well as business etiquette tips from dining to dressing. So essentially there is something for everyone and an excuse for no one! Manners do matter on the Emerald Coast and should never go out of style, regardless of whether our jeans do or not. 

I seek constantly to improve my manners and graces, for they are the sugar to which all are attracted.” 

“The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.” Fred Astaire

“Once I said to my mother: 'You would be happy if I just kept well-dressed and had good manners,' and she said: 'What else is there?'”Cy Twombly