I vividly remember my maternal grandmother being horrified the day she caught me drinking the milk from my cereal bowl. According to her I was obviously being raised by wolves and not her child since she hadn’t raised a hooligan. I was five. Please understand that this is the woman who insisted I learn how to curtsy (knowledge, much like working quadratic equations, I have never needed) and wear white gloves to church. Even well into adult hood she was correcting my manners, scolding me for greeting her neighbors on our evening stroll with a nice “hey.” “Hey,” she explained in no uncertain terms, was not a proper greeting in western Kentucky. I will spare you my response but I tell you all this to explain, in some small way, my fascination with etiquette books.
I think one of the things I loved the most about the character Elle Woods, portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in the movie Legally Blonde is the fact that her manners are impeccable. Even when she has been publicly humiliated she manages to keep her dignity AND find kind things to say to the woman who humiliated her. By movie’s end she is much beloved, not because she can teach an entire salon full of women the “Bend and Snap” but because she never fails to be kind or stoops to the level of those around her. She rises to every awkward and painful situation because her manners are deeply ingrained and being able to react gracefully gives her the confidence to go on. To paraphrase Miss Manners, also known as Judith Martin, manners are not meant to be used as blunt instruments on others but to put the other person at ease. Of course, Judith Martin is the same woman who, as a young reporter for the Washington Post, was banned from Tricia Nixon’s wedding because she made the Nixon women “uncomfortable.” No doubt Elle Woods would have been a more welcome guest.
If you just want some snappy reading try any of Miss Manner’s books. Her detailed chart on weddings is a scream. Categories include: Excruciatingly Correct, Less Formal and Over Miss Manners’ Dead Body. If you just want to make certain you don’t bring up any little hooligans of your own, we have an app, er, book for that too.
Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin
Civility Solution: What to Say When People are Rude by P.M. Forni
Teen Manners: From Malls to Meal to Messaging and Beyond by Cindy Post Senning
Being a Pig is Nice by Sally Lloyd-Jones
How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? by Jane Yolen
Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf by Judy Sierra
Please is a Good Word to Say by Barbara Joose