Who Murdered Miss Manners?

I’m lost in the sweeping meadows of the countryside of Victorian England while I’m working on one of my historical novels, and as the relationships between my characters play out, I’m thinking a lot about the manners and propriety of that time period (think Austen-esque) and how much things have changed since Jane was writing her much beloved stories.

Chivalry, as we think of it, applies to men.  And even though it is gender neutral, we tend to place the burdens of proper etiquette on women.

Some people say chivalry is dead.  I hope not.  I plan on keeping it alive through my sons.   

But what about etiquette?  Is it dead?

Etiquette gives guidelines for proper manners and appropriate social behavior with details and events like parties, guests, place settings, thank yous, hostessing, etc…but has Miss Manners gone the way of black and white TV and VCRs?

Do you know your etiquette?  I’m mostly posing this question out of my own curiosity.

I’m not just talking about not talking with your mouth full or not putting your elbows on the dinner table, but the proper “rules” for wedding invitations, guests, hostessing, R.S.V.P.s, etc.  How many gentlemen still stand when a lady enters a room or excuses herself from a table?  Do you require your children to put their napkins in their laps at meals?

I was raised in a household where proper etiquette was taught.  I never went to cotillion nor was I actually a debutante, but my mom schooled me in the appropriate and polite points of etiquette that have stuck with me.

So I had a mini charm school in my own house growing up.  However, I do not own an etiquette book, and while I practice the basics, I don’t always know all of the nitty-gritty details.  (Nor do I usually try to find out.)

For example, when my brother got married, I knew that my mom needed to wait to pick out her dress until the bride’s mother had done so, so that she could make sure she didn’t pick the same color as the bride’s mother.  However, I did not know that it is proper etiquette for the length of the bride’s mother’s dress to dictate the length of the groom’s mother’s dress.

I willingly admit that some etiquette rules seem silly.  I don’t usually drink my tea with my pinky in the air, but basic etiquette is something I try to practice most of the time.

As I’ve aged, though, I am starting to think that I might be alone in my acknowledgement of etiquette (except for my sister!).  The vast majority of people in my age group and younger do not seem to have even the most basic understanding of it, nor do they really care.

It seems that even though (or because) we are in the days of Bridezillas and extravagant weddings via David Tutera, basic etiquette no longer applies.

Is this a bad thing?  It is just a sign that times are changing, or are there those out there who still live by these rules?  Should we be teaching them to our children?  Is learning how to properly set a table a life-skill?

I wonder if young ladies still know the proper rules when addressing wedding invitations, timely thank you notes, or sending wedding gifts.  How about setting the table for a nice dinner party or hostessing, or taking hostess gifts?  Call me a snob if you must (please don’t), but in my experience, the answer is no.  

The one that most annoys me is not acknowledging the common courtesy of the RSVP.  Whether it’s hosting events like baby showers, bridal showers, or even my kid’s birthday party, the RSVP is hard to come by.

Even when I include three phone numbers, two email addresses, my Twitter account, my Facebook page, and the required items necessary for sending smoke signals, people still do not RSVP.  I’m starting to think that most people don’t even know what RSVP means.

To avoid the lack of RSVPs, I often use “Regrets Only.”  That doesn’t work, either.

What about business etiquette?  Does it still exist in the corporate world?

I’m not a 100% stickler for etiquette, mind you. I do realize that not all events require the fanciness that etiquette seems to imply.  However, proper manners apply in all situations, I think.
 
Share with me: Is there a difference between etiquette and manners?  What are your thoughts on etiquette?  Is it just an antiquated way of doing things that has gone the way of the cassette player, or should we still be teaching it?  Do you practice etiquette, or are you more relaxed?  If you do know the basic rules of etiquette, how did you learn them? Your mom, your grandmother, a book?

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Who Murdered Miss Manners?

  1. I was raised in a house similar to yours, and we try to do the same with my daughter. Napkin on your lap, elbows off the table, etc. It seems kids lack the basic these days. I've noticed that when we go to public places like the pool or the mall, they have no common courtesy for other people. They walk in front of you, splash you, etc. No boundaries. Why? Because their parents are usually doing the same thing.I don't know if it's a product of our instant gratification society or what, but it's frustrating.

  2. You know I'm a fan of chivalry! I'm also a fan of manners. Please and thank you were one of the first things I taught my son. I like the idea of teaching children etiquette.

  3. My pet peeve is thank you notes. It seems like if I give a wedding gift, whether I attend the wedding or note, I have about a 30 percent chance of receiving a thank you note. I don't give the gift to get a note, but even though it keeps happening, I'm shocked every time. That seems like pretty basic etiquette.

  4. I'm so glad you wrote this! I was reared the same way. My mom always made us write thank you notes, set the table properly, say yes ma'am/no ma'am, etc. I remember a few years back sending a thank you note to a friend after being invited to dinner at their home and they thought it was funny. One of my biggest pet peeves is not responding to invitations. I seem to go through it every year with my sons' birthday parties and end up having to chase people down and it is so frustrating! How hard is it to send an email or make a quick call?? Sorry, anger is a little fresh since my youngest son's party is this Saturday. 🙂 I'm proud to be raising two little boys who already let girls go first on the ladder when getting out of the pool and open doors for them. I don't want chivalry to be dead in my house! 🙂

  5. I think etiquette is definitely falling by the wayside…at least in the majority of households. Although, it's alive and well in my parent's home…lol.To this day, I almost never forget to RSVP. And, although I'm terrible at it, try to send a "thank you" note. If I don't mail a note, I'll take the time to email or thank the gift giver in person.Another thing I wonder about is showing up empty-handed to parties. I always have to bring something like wine or a desert. Anyone else?

  6. My mom taught us all the pleasantries, not calling adults by their first names, sending thank you notes, not interrupting, etc…I've been teaching my little guy "please" and "thank you" since he started making sounds. (He is 23 months old and uses both words now)Do I think all rules of etiquette need to come back? No. But I do believe a LOT of them would make us all much more pleasant to be around.So long as we can still be ourselves. I'm not looking to go back to the days when being "genteel" was in fashion.Great post.

  7. I agree on this post! My house was same as yours 😉 Every day I remind my son to put his napkin in his lap (as well as my husband-LOL). And a napkin ring is a must too! I couldnt go out of the house with wrinkled clothes or unpolished shoes. While my mother was a pain with these rules..I admit to carrying them on and hope my son does too. I never knew why she nagged me to make my bed so my room was presented neatly, and now I do it first thing every day. So, yes, I do think we can carry these on thru our kids – after all our parents did – right?

  8. P.S. I think etiquette is having social graces (napkins in laps) but manners speak more to how we treat others, "please" "thank you" and just basic consideration.My mother drilled in me to write thank you notes and I still do – and now does my son. I think it is a lost touch many dont do, but I hope some of us carry on. It shows we take the time to stop and thank some and show we care.

  9. jamilajamison

    Fascinating! I'm actually working on a MA thesis at the moment that focuses on wedding etiquette of the 1920s. One of the things that I've found is that at that time (and also during the 19th century, as well), following the rules of manners was a way of trying to join the social elite, the group of people highlighted by etiquette authors as "the cultured" or "best society" (to borrow from the wonderful Emily Post). They argued that following the rules of etiquette wasn't compulsory, but added that those who didn't would find it difficult to succeed in business and social life.I could say much, much more on this (that's what happens when you study something for 3 years!), but I will say that I do appreciate another theme that emerges from these books: that having set rules to govern people's behavior helps to create a smoother, better organized society, one where people are encouraged to be kind, generous, and hospitable to one another. I do think we are missing some of that today (and oh gosh, that RSVP thing drives me NUTS). It would be interesting to see if we could find a way to reach a happy medium.

  10. Thank you for your fantastic comments everyone! I've been away from internet access all day, so I'm sorry that I'm just now responding. (Notice my polite apology?) :)Olivia- I agree that I don't give a gift to receive a thank you note, but I do appreciate being acknowledged and knowing they received my gift, too. And with a timely thank you note.Donna- I love the way you define the difference between etiquette and manners. Perfect!I'm thankful to know that there are still those out there who practice etiquette!

  11. Good post Jennifer, The reason that positive social behavior feels extinct–no matter how swanky or modest the environment–is that it is neither taught in home nor taught in any educational environment whatsoever. It is also *not* portrayed as a virtue in popular culture, which is where many girls and boys develop the stuff of their identity. If you are a person who displays positive social behavior then I urge you to keep doing so. Standards are being lowered at such a fast rate that I fear for our society.

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