After listening to me recount a particularly astounding social blunder I had made my husband Chad said to me, “Danger, in order to have manners someone you have to be taught them.” This was too true for me to hear it as a snarky comment. While my parents taught me many things however neither formality nor social grace are counted among them. I had never considered these things important, until now. Soon I was loading “Etiquette” by Emily Post on my kindle. Thus began my education in formality and fine society. If the world only learned the following four tips the world would be a much nicer place.
The highest priority of etiquette is treating people well and making people comfortable. She writes of dignity and social grace being independent of bloodline or income. She has always insisted that good manners are less about using the right fork to use and more about being considerate to other people’s feelings.
Most of the book is like running my fingers through the brocaded garments of the Guilded Age and is quite irrelevant to my life today. There is a whole chapter on how, when and to whom to appropriately tip your hat (Everyone, all the time unless its busy and then touching the brim will do). Then there was the chapter detailing the proper use of calling cards. Nonetheless as I look around through the lens of Mrs. Post’s eye I see many places that my life and my world would be better off with more decorum and structure.
Structure can serve to create definition which supports comfort and gives us more room to play. To that end the following tips intend to guide and support as opposed to equip anyone with tools to judge or shame oneself or others.
Say the name of the person to whom the introductions are being made first.
It looks like this: “Bill – Tom is the new graphic artist. Bill is my father in law.”
If you live in a world of hierarchy then you just make sure the introductions are directed to the highest ranking person. “CEO- Accountant”
I love the simplicity of this approach. All of a sudden it became easy! How nice. In the past I wondered how to best make introductions. My anxious brain would buzz: Am I responsible for generating further conversation? How much do I have to tell about how I knew these people? Do I have to repeat names or say ‘may I present’ or ‘may I introduce’ or ‘please meet’ or…? No wonder I would avoid the situation when possible.
Emily Post says it couldn’t be simpler. Just say the names once if there is an easy reference point use it. Nothing could be simpler. And why do you do this? You do this because for two reasons: It acknowledges the importance other people have in your life. Secondly well done introductions help relieve everyone of social anxiety because it is uncomfortable for most people to be amongst strangers.
Including A New Person
Another challenging situation for me has long been welcoming someone to a pre-existing conversation. For example, if I am in conversation with my friend and someone else approached us in the middle of our conversation I used get scrambled and anxious. I didn’t know how to include the new person and still continue with the conversation at hand.
There are circles where the solution is to ignore the new person until they interject themselves in the conversation or on the other extreme there are instances where the conversation dies completely when a new person enters the circle and then the group stands around stammering for a moment wondering what to talk about next. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simple easy way to make people feel welcome without sacrificing what may have been a good conversation?
Well, I am so glad you asked…
If you know the person and are able to facilitate the introduction:
“Sara – Penny. Sara and I were just talking about narco trafficking in Latin America.”
That’s it. Penny has now been acknowledged and invited to join the conversation. And then you go back to talking about the complexities of drug war or whatever else.
If you don’t know the person’s name (this is a modern problem) then skip introductions which would interrupt the conversation and put all the attention on the new person which is both an inconvenience and uncomfortable. Instead say:
“Hello. We are talking about narco trafficking in Latin America – I am of the opinion that…”
Receiving a compliment.
Say “Thank you.”
There is no need to return it or deflect it or say something like “yes, I like it too” or even worse “I know.” Not knowing any better I have done all of those in the past. But compliments are a challenge to receive when you feel like there is something you ‘should do’ but you don’t know what it is. There is freedom in recognizing that grace is simply to accept the gift.
(I learned this years before reading Etiquette, nonetheless it is such a simple easy tip I wanted to included it.)
Ending A Conversation
Until we can easily tell people no we aren’t willing to reach out past a certain comfortable point. In the absence of clear boundaries we can find ourselves a captive audience to someone else’s droning. We err on the side of being vague to avoid being rude. So when we hope the conversation will end we say things like, “Jeez, I have a lot of work to do.” Or “I really do feel tired.” If the person is sensitive to the needs of others they will get the hint, if they are not then we soon start to feel harassed and put upon. All the while we miss the point that we are not fully engaging to get the result we want. The alternative?
When you get to a point in conversation when you are ready to move on, simply say:
“Thank you for the visit, it was lovely to chat with you. Unfortunately now I must go.”
If the person has talked non stop for a long time and have to interrupt them to end the conversation. Then say:
“I am so sorry to interrupt you but I am realizing I don’t have time to get into this now. Thank you for the visit. I am going to get back to my work now.”
Stay open, give the person a chance to say goodbye. This will become easier as you start to realize that you can end the conversation when you want. If at first the other person doesn’t acknowledge what you said then simply repeat your wish to end contact and then without smoothly without hurry do so right then. You have been graceful and polite after that the issue really lies with the other person.
Just because you are polite and clear does not mean that other people will be polite, clear or even especially sane. Not your problem, as they say this is out of your jurisdiction. Good etiquette is not about controlling other people’s behavior, it is about finding easy ways to give voice to your needs and desires in a way that hopes to put others at ease. May we all continue to find ways to strike the delicate balance between taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other.
Apologies for the longer post – I just get so excited about etiquette! This is not the last time I will write about this. I see a fertile place for the structure of the Victorian world to meet and improve the realm of modern intimacy. Would love to hear how this lands for you… Are these tips helpful/relevant? Do you buckle at the idea of social rules?