Monday, August 15, 2005

Manners Training Making a Comeback?

An interesting article in the Times on Saturday, A Minder to Mind Your Manners, which segues nicely with my missive on courtesy last week, specifically with regard to cell phone use. It seems that those in the etiquette business are finding more and more call for their services these days. People are coming into this for different reasons, some are interested in doing better on dates:

J. R. GOWAN, a 36-year-old screenwriter, said he had never thought of taking lessons in etiquette. It was his sister's idea.It came to Cameron Gowan after she had dated one too many men who forgot to open doors for her, who were rude to waiters or - and this was the deal breaker for her - who didn't care enough about personal grooming to spare her the sight of eyebrows sprouting "two hairs that are a foot long."

Foot long eyebrow hair? Yuck.

Or there's those who are interested in exuding an air of confidence that apparently comes with mastering the rules of etiquette:

Then there are those who see mastery of etiquette as another step in a tireless quest for self-improvement. One 35-year-old assistant movie producer, who took private etiquette lessons in March to help advance her career, said the move had already paid off. Rather than sitting in the car while her boss holds court over lunch in the Beverly Hills Hotel, she says she now joins the business meetings with the self-assurance of a Donald Trump.

While I have a hard time believing that Donald Trump would be anyone's model for good etiquette, I think we get the general idea.

Or there's the parent who's concerned with the creeping "grunge" influence exhibited in a child's dressing and attitude:

Some parents resort to etiquette instructors to coach their children through important periods of their lives. Donni Gray, 36, said she turned to a Los Angeles etiquette instructor, Amanda Wycoff, a year and a half ago when her daughter was 11 and had just switched schools. She was in a "grunge stage" and did not care much about her appearance, Ms. Gray said, but somehow Ms. Wycoff made her start combing her hair, building a circle of friends and volunteering to help teachers.

My guess is that Ms. Gray will have wished she had gone the "anonymous" route after sharing her and, more importantly, her daughter's experience in etiquette training, but hey, it's the NY Times, right? I wonder if it's good manners to expose your kid's etiquette training to the world at large? Well, I'll just assume either Ms. Gray had a daughter release agreement or otherwise had consulted with the manners minder in her service at the time.

Does the need stretch beyond just properly impressing your date and child rearing? You bet it does, as we learn:

Judging from the research, Americans can surely use the remedial training.
National surveys routinely find that a majority of respondents view Americans as
ever more unpolished and impolite. Loud cellphone conversations, sloppy grammar in e-mail and annoyingly indifferent store clerks are just some of what draws complaints.

"You'd be surprised how many times at a banquet someone is drinking your water," said Kimberly Anderson, an etiquette trainer in Orange County, Calif.

Finally, the mystery to where my water's been going at banquets is solved! - I can't begin to tell you how long this has been bugging me. That aside, sloppy grammar and spelling, indifferent store clerks (though to be honest this is MUCH more of a problem in Europe than here - in Germany I swear they think they're doing you a favor anytime you walk into their store), and loud cellphone conversations definitely hit a button.

The article shares an input from Peggy Post, the great-granddaughter of the deceased etiquette doyenne Emily Post and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, who tells us that parents are leading such rushed lives these days that they don't have the time to properly train
their children in the art of good etiquette. Another expert from the Protocol School of Washington (located in Maine apparently, I'm very confused) tells us that kids are spending too much time in front of computers, thereby seriously impeding their ability to engage in small talk and, apparently, good manners in general. All this had me head scratching - you don't have the time to teach your kid good manners, then what do you have the time for? Teaching good manners should be a matter of spending time with your child and observing them, and correcting them when they do something out of line or inappropriate. Parents don't have the time for this? And are parents really giving over that much of their kids' lives to computers such that they're raising social retards? Maybe more the problem is that the parents themselves don't know good manners and thereby aren't in any position themselves to be teaching anyone etiquette. Well, as a pending new parent this is definitely giving me food for thought.

Well, there it is. It's nice to know that etiquette minders are out there trying to correct the ill-manners of many members of our society. Alas, my guess is that the ones we really need to worry about are not the ones naturally inclined to pick up a book on etiquette or seek out an manners minder, though it is nice to know that people do seem to care more than subjective
evidence would otherwise seem to indicate ... well, maybe not, but one can hope.

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