Etiquette and Hospitality really walk hand in hand, but I wanted to cover it separately in order to emphasize the importance of etiquette and focus a little on some of the lost arts of etiquette. It saddens me to see etiquette cast wholly to the side in order to make room for informality and casualness as the norm. No longer do we address a female stranger as Mrs. so-and-so – she’s Miss First Name. No longer do young men open doors for ladies – how sad I am to see an apathetic young man scowl as he flings open the door just to have it drop in the face of another person behind him. There is a loss of civility that parallels a loss in etiquette. Can there be any doubt that we are reaping what we sow in our casual, come-as-you-are culture right now?
I’m not advocating that there be no time for casualness and a comfortable sense of being at-home, but for everything there is a season, a time and place for everything under heaven. There is a time for a more formal greeting, a time for a formal letter, a time for a table set with care and attention to placement, and there is never a time that is out of season for good manners and basic gentility in speech and deed.
Courteousness and good manners are an extension of charity and as such require attention and careful nurturing. Careful pains will need to be taken in cultivating them in the home, and reinforcing them as second nature. They are a reflection of one’s heart.
I have found one book that is gentle and extraordinary at communicating the necessity of good manners – Everyday Graces by Karen Garver Santorum. The children and I try to read one story from this book each week during our story time in the mornings. The stories are rich and offer many opportunities for discussion. This book is all that is necessary in working with a child from the 6th grade on down. Read and re-read, it will be a cherished source of instruction, not a dry manual of do’s and do not’s.
A listing of chapters for those interested in the book…
1. Good Manners at Home
2. Using Words Wisely
3. Table Manners
4. Washing and Dressing
5. Appreciating People with Disabilities
6. Caring for the Elderly and Sick
7. Out and About: Getting Along With Others
8. Good Manners in School
9. Good Sportsmanship
10. Writing Letters and Invitations
11. Church, Weddings, and Funerals
12. Kindness Towards Animals
13. Respecting Our Country
Some of the stories are familiar, others are rare gems and so worth the read. All are captivating. A favorite here are the little quotations in the margins of the book. Using the Bible or quotes from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, Karen provides succinct little gems that contain a wealth of instruction. I love beautiful language.
For young ladies who are older, say jr. high age and certainly high school age, a more thorough study of the finer points of etiquette is necessary. For this, I turn to Ms. Emily Post. A caution, modern versions of Emily Post’s etiquette contain additions and modifications which I find unsavory. I avoid newer versions altogether. It is so worth your while to search ebay and other used book sites to find an edition published in 1940 or before.
One of my favorite books for imparting a sense of etiquette and gentility of word and deed is Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. This book is a must read for any young lady. My own personal opinion is that this book is best read in the dead of winter, curled up in front of a fire. Sheer bliss. Another series that is a no-brainer here are The Anne of Green Gables books. Simply charming in the way they offer a window into Anne’s world of teas, parties, friendships, and life.
If you are spending a focused year on the gentle skills of homemaking and the home arts, why not choose a point of etiquette to focus on each month. Perhaps, one month can be dedicated to setting a lovely table, another to the handwritten and properly addressed note, another to proper greetings and introductions, and so on.
My own suggestions for a year’s worth of focus broken up into monthly themes:
September ~ The Spoken Word:
~ Introductions and greetings
~ Phone manners
~ Politeness when entering a conversation
~ Politely excusing oneself from a conversation
~ Politeness in declining and accepting an invitation
~ A time for giddiness and silliness and a time for more polish
~ Graciously receiving and accepting a compliment
November ~ Table Manners:
~ Place settings
~ How to polish and care for fine silver and china
~ Arranging a grouping of flowers
~ Who is served first
~ When to begin eating when attending a more formal dinner
~ Proper use of a fork and knife as well as other silverware (butter knife, sugar spoon, etc.)
~ Placement of used silver
~ Reaching at the table
~ Serving portions from a dish (eating in moderation)
~ Use of a cloth napkin
~ Posture at table
~ Use, Design and Display of Place Cards
~ Special attention to manners in a restaurant
December ~ A month ideally suited to exercising etiquette and manners learned thus far ~
January ~ The Written Word
~ The thank-you note
~ The invitation, acceptance and sending regrets
~ Writing a letter
~ Thoughtfulness in selecting stationery and good penmanship
~ Email etiquette
February ~ Appropriate Dress
~ Modest, feminine dress
~ Proper dress for different events – the formal event, the sports event, casual and everyday
~ The loveliness of an apron
~ Tidiness and practicality in beauty and grooming
~ How a young lady should sit gracefully
March ~ Respect for Our Country
~ Guidelines of displaying and storing the American Flag
~ Proper respect and posture during the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance
~ Good Citizenship
April ~ Respecting Others
~ Honoring Mother and Father
~ Accepting a gesture of kindness from another
~ Good Manners when visiting someone’s home
~ Honoring and helping the elderly
~ Caring for the Sick
~ Kindness towards animals
May ~ This would be a wonderful month to hostess a tea for young ladies to practice their gentle manners of interaction.
~ The many responsibilities and considerations of being a thoughtful hostess
Let us strive to lift our culture out of the vulgarity that seems to be so common and acceptable by imparting to our daughters a love of beauty, gentleness, and decency. It all begins at home.