As a child, I didn’t understand why manners were so important to my mother, who forced me to write thank-you notes, say ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘yes, sir,’ let people off the elevator before I got on, and all that nonsense.
Not to mention all the things we were NOT allowed to do, like run down the stairs because ladies don’t run down the stairs, chew gum in church, or answer with a loud ‘WHAT?!’ when our parents called our names. Ridiculous, I thought. So controlling, I thought.
And then I grew up and turned into an old lady who loves manners and never fails to write a thank-you note. At least up until the times of major crisis in my life when I gave myself a pass on thank-you notes; if you were one of those friends who brought me a meal or kept my kids when my life was falling apart, I do hope you’ll let me know immediately so I can rectify that embarrassing faux pas and get a note into the mail right away, and then I can sleep at night.
And for Heaven’s sake, don’t tell my mother.
I LOVE watching shows like Downton Abbey, because as an old lady with manners, I appreciate the beauty in all the tradition, the propriety, the politeness. WHY? Because this world is a nasty, ugly place. There is nastiness everywhere you look. Ugliness, nastiness, crudeness.
Even our once-so-dignified White House… isn’t. And it’s so very sad.
Why NOT put a little extra effort into making the world a nicer, prettier place? Manners, tradition, propriety… it’s just a beautiful oasis in a nasty world, like the dining room at Downton.
This whole train of thought came to me recently at the nail salon, of all places, when the woman in the chair next to me waved her empty wine glass at the girl helping her with a ‘Chop chop!’ and I was tempted to stare at her, slack-jawed, because RUDE. Lady Grantham would never treat her servants that way.
But of course staring at someone slack-jawed is quite rude, so I pulled myself together and buried myself in my magazine, because like my mother taught me, calling attention to someone else’s bad manners is the worst manners of all.
You know, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so horrified at the ‘Chop chop!’ had I not been a waitress during my last year of college, and was on the receiving end of the waved wine glass and the clap clap, ‘chop chop,’ more than once, and it’s demeaning and insulting and just plain makes people feel bad to be treated that way. I’ve always said that the world would be a nicer place if everyone had to wait tables at least once in their lives. We’d all treat our waiters better, for sure.
That’s the whole point of manners: it’s not just about making the world a prettier place; they make the OTHER person feel good.
Everyone loves to be thanked and appreciated. Everyone loves to be treated with respect. Everyone loves to be made to feel like their gift/thoughtfulness/presence on earth matters.
And another case in point? The RSVP. Why does nobody respond to invitations anymore? Because RUDE. We just celebrated Susie’s birthday, and I invited all eight kids in her preschool class. Do you know how many responded? ONE. Zero came, probably due to the cold, torrential downpour of rain, but at least one responded to let me know she wouldn’t be able to come.
But this number is up significantly from last year, when ZERO came and ZERO responded.
Last year, I had ordered the cutest party favors for the attendees, and zero of Susie’s eight preschool classmates showed up. I was left with approximately eight Blue’s Clues Handy Dandy Notebooks and crayons all tied up in a cute little party favor bag. And what can you do with eight Blue’s Clues Handy Dandy Notebooks after the Blue’s Clues party is over? Not much.
I learned my lesson, and this year, went with candy in little treat bags, because candy won’t be wasted if no one has the manners to let me know they’re not coming to the party. Halloween is coming up, after all.
See? Lack of manners makes people FEEL BAD. But it’s a good thing my self-esteem doesn’t come from RSVPs, or lack thereof. I have grown some thick skin due to the events of recent years, and I will survive. And Susie has half a dozen cousins who are always faithful to attend every party, so 100% of her favorite people were present, and she never knew.
And when those non-RSVP-ers invite Susie to their kid’s party? I’ll have the good manners to respond.
It’s about treating people like you want to be treated, which would totally make the world a better place if we all lived by that rule.
How can YOU do that? At the very minimum…
- Say ‘Thank you.’ If someone gives you a gift, helps you, or just makes your life easier/better/happier in any way, acknowledge it. If they have spent their time shopping for a gift for you, buying something from your registry, and gone to the expense/time/effort to get the gift to you, acknowledge it. Don’t make them wonder if their gift even arrived. A ‘thank you’ in person is nice, but nobody EVER got their feelings hurt by getting a thank-you note in the mail as well.
- Treat your waitress/salesperson/pedicurist with respect. If YOU were the one carrying food on a tray, or on your knees scraping dead skin from someone’s feet, would you want someone ordering you around like a servant? Or saying, ‘Chop chop?’ No. No, you would not. Extend grace, treat them like they’re valuable people, and tip as if it’s your child doing that job.
- And for Heaven’s sake, RSVP. If you’re invited somewhere, let the hostess know if you’ll be there or not. Don’t make her buy your kid a party favor, prepare extra food, or rearrange her dining room to accommodate you when you have no intention of showing up. It’s the thoughtful thing to do.
But if you have somehow forgotten to RSVP or send a thank-you note? Don’t worry; I don’t hold it against you. Well, you know, except when I write about it in this blog. Because like my mother taught me, the test of good manners is to be able to put up pleasantly with bad ones. And far be it from me to be unpleasant.
I’ll just close with these words from Jesus. Because I’m almost positive Jesus would have written His thank-you notes…