Back in high school, I can remember my friends and I cooking dinner for some thankless teen-aged boys. We thought we were so cool. It was all very fancy. (I am sure the guys wore their best shorts for the occasion.) We girls made everything and displayed it beautifully, making sure the silverware was set just so, napkins in place, fresh flowers in the center... . as if they would know the difference! Back then, etiquette was something I felt I needed to know: a skill I needed to hone in order to be successful and sophisticated.
When I got engaged I was rarely seen without my trusty hardback copy of
Emily Post's Etiquette: A Guide to Modern Manners.
I obsessed about layering the invitation inserts properly, wearing the right length of veil for the proportions of the church and the number of guests, the pew bows, the flower baskets...
Looking back, I made plenty of mistakes. I hope no one was offended by my youthful ignorance. You see, I confused etiquette with snobbery. Real manners make everyone comfortable. Real manners are simply a way of expressing how much we care about others. Etiquette does not exist simply to separate the the snooty from the lowly. They should never be simply to impress. After all, acting like a snooty-patooty is not displaying good manners at all, no matter which fork we use at dinner!
These days, etiquette can seem to be a forgotten art. To some extent this is true, as there are far too many people in the world who don't give a damn if you and I are comfortable and cared for or not. Shame on them! *she said with a wink* At the same time, however, I would argue that some appropriate behavior changes with the times. For example, Emily Post would not have had an opinion on email exchanges because they did not exist in her time. However, www.emilypost.com (from whom I borrowed the photo and obituary below) offers all kinds of suggestions for dealing with modern situations. Of course, many, many things remain the same; kindness will never go out of style.
I love the topic of etiquette, though I am certainly not perfect at its practice. I have been accused of being less than friendly (quiet) and also of being down-right mouthy. (an interesting juxtaposition) I'll accept both as true and save that for another post. ;) But, with wedding season upon us, I have begun to think about etiquette more seriously again. I think it is time for me to dust off my copy of Emily Post and refresh my memory. I am sure the children will be dreading it and you may be too, because you can be sure I will be here reporting my opinions as I go!
ELIZABETH L. POST, 89, died in Naples, Fla. on April 24, 2010, surrounded by her family. During her stewardship of the Emily Post tradition and through her life as a doting grandmother, Libby, or "Mud" as her grandchildren knew her, touched the lives of many people. She will be dearly missed. A service celebrating Libby’s life will be held in Waterbury Center, Vt. on a date and time to be determined. Contributions in her memory may be made to the Waterbury Congregational Church, UCC, 8 North Main Street, Waterbury, VT 05676 or to the Helen Day Art Center, 5 School Street, PO Box 411, Stowe, VT 05672.