Friday, October 26, 2012


What better month to celebrate National Manners Month than in October, the month when Emily Post was born to a prominent Baltimore family in the year 1873. She was raised in the Victorian era when manners were strictly codified, and women, especially well-to-do women, had to know their place and do nothing to jeopardize it. That was an era of polite society, so polite that even today the Emily Post website politely fails to mention her divorce, one of the first in her circle of friends, and her subsequent entry into the realms of the gainfully employed. After writing several successful novels and travel articles she turned her hand to a book on etiquette.

In my book, her book is really about two things: etiquette and manners. According to my handy dictionary, etiquette is “the conventional requirements as to social behavior, and the prescribed or accepted code of usage in matters of ceremony.” It is how you set a table, what fork goes where. It is how you formally address the President of the United States or the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Manners, on the other hand, are, according to the same dictionary, “social behavior, especially in terms of what is considered correct or unacceptable in a particular society or period in time.” There is a fine difference. Manners are how you relate to other people. Using an example from today’s technical world, we could say etiquette is using the accepted lingo or shorthand for text messages to your friends, while manners would be your texting them at appropriate times for both of you: not when you are driving, not at meal times, not at midnight.

Etiquette, as I said, is how you set your table. Manners are waiting to eat until your hostess takes her first bite. Etiquette and its rules go along with the times; manners are timeless. Emily Post said "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use." It comes down to this: it’s nice to be nice.

It’s not that you do something correctly, but that you do it with correct consideration. Etiquette requires a gentleman to hold the door for a lady; manners require that he do so graciously, not with an exasperated expression on his face. Further, manners at SCCL suggest that you hold the door for the next guy, especially at the Lake House where the heavyweight doors were designed for Gargantua.

I get all confused here: is it etiquette or good manners for SCCL golf cart drivers to park two carts in a regular car spot? Well, I guess it could be etiquette for two to use the spot, and manners to be considerate and park them offset so that drivers and passengers can get in and out of the cart with ease. 
Speaking of manners, we’ve a few husbands around here who are really pips.You may have seen one of these incidents with the genders reversed, but on several recent occasions I’ve seen men with relatively infirm spouses get out of a car or golf cart and just stride off, leaving the woman to get out, rummage around in the back seat for her cane in one case, and to get herself inside without so much as a steadying hand. You can’t tell me that on every one of those occasions he had to get to the john so fast he left her to fend for herself. He sure wasn’t catching a plane.

I firmly believe that courtesy, manners, and etiquette, are part of the foundation of a good marriage.  I have been blessed with one of the most considerate husbands on the planet, and I appreciate it no end.

To paraphrase Sgt. Esterhaus: “Let’s mind our manners out there.”