As I tell my son, with good manners, you can go anywhere in the world – from the White House to Buckingham Palace to dinner at the neighbors’ – and be welcome. Without good manners, you will not be welcome anywhere.
It’s hard to instill good manners in a child, particularly when those manners seem all but forgotten. I’m only 35 but I was raised in kind of an old-fashioned way. I’ve talked and acted like an “old lady” for most of my life, in fact.
Still the basic principles of good manners – to think about others’ feelings, to show appreciation for what people do for you, to be considerate of others’ circumstances – have not only helped me in my personal and professional life, but they have also proven to be portable.
By that I mean that although some of the customs may change, those basic principles have been as effective in Washington, DC and Trenton, NJ as they were in Oxford, England; Paris, France; Vienna, Austria; and Bagassi, Burkina Faso.
Today I read that Elizabeth Post, granddaughter-in-law to the famous Emily Post and herself a purveyor of etiquette, had passed away. Read the Washington Post article about her.
I would like to think that good manners are not dying out, as well, but it’s hard not to feel that they have been severely diminished by a culture that seems to celebrate rudeness and vulgarity by rewarding it with a reality TV show (“Jersey Shore” cast – I’m looking at you. “Real Housewives,” you’re on that list, too).
It’s funny that most people only get interested in etiquette when they get engaged as though years of ignoring hosts’ pleas to RSVP can be obliterated by one exceptionally well-worded wedding invitation.
The truth is, the mechanics of good manners can be learned from a book but the spirit, the motivation, and the sentiment – all the things that enable one to react to any and every situation with good manners – cannot be taught. You cannot memorize them. You have to start with a quality character. And there aren’t any reality TV shows showcasing those.