DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jan 25 2010

What do you say, Dear?

by Patricia D

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

What Do you Say when–Talking to People with Confidence on any Social or Business Occasion by Florence Isaacs

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

Smart Girl’s Guide to Manners: Secrets to Grace, Confidence and Being Your Best by Nancy Holyoke

Please is a Good Word to Say by Barbara Joose

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jnai W January 25, 2010 at 5:57 PM

I loved this post, Patricia. Manners, etiquette and decorum are awesome! (I try to have them everyday)

Veronica W January 26, 2010 at 2:39 PM

Also, lest we forget, “ladies do not cross their legs at the knees, swing their pocketbooks or chew gum in public.” (MY mother was raised in Richmond,VA) Gotta love it!

Lesley B January 27, 2010 at 11:56 AM

Okay, Veronica, I’m uncrossing my legs and swallowing my gum right now. Love Miss Manners although I’ve never managed to live up to her standards. I have a etiquette book from the 1930’s called “Manners for Millions” with a section on streetcar etiquette – no spitting!

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