By Corinne Wnek
I never thought of myself as the sentimental type. I don’t usually reminisce about the past because it’s enough for me to cope with the present. But there are some things from years gone by that I would like to see in vogue again. Good manners are at the top of my wish list. While we’re at it, why can’t a ‘normal’ hello and good bye make a comeback, too? I’ll get to phone and email etiquette in a minute.
Now you may not know this, but it was that great song and dance man, Fred Astaire, who commented in an interview way back in the seventies, “The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any”. I bet he’s shuffle-hop-stepping in his grave right now because not a lot has changed in 2010. Maybe our casual lifestyle has something to do with it. Maybe the very word ‘manners’ conveys stuffy propriety that just invites rebellion. Maybe we need Fred Astaire back to teach us a little class.
For instance, I can’t remember the last time I heard ‘thank you’ when I bagged my own groceries at the supermarket. I do this to help the cashier move the line quicker and so I can place like items together. That makes for an easier unloading when I get home. I can’t thank them enough when they let me check out 15 items in an express lane with a limit of 10. But all I want is a little acknowledgment that they know I’m part of the team, too. “Thanks for baggin’’, would do the trick.
Another general observation has to do with how we greet one another. Whatever happened to the happy and personal “Hi”, “Hello” or “How are you?” Today, you’re lucky to get a mere nod of the head or worse, the nonsensical, “Hey”. Someone tell me how “Hey” is personal and conveys ‘nice to see you’. It just stops and doesn’t go anywhere, much like the ensuing conversation.
Now the students at my high school are generally well mannered. Yet, every so often, when they think you’re not listening, their street alter egos come out. When they part ways and mean to say ‘good bye’, something like “Out, Dude” or “later” signal the end of the conversation and then they simply walk away. The problem with these hello’s and good byes is that they don’t really convey anything. You’re forced to learn a language that doesn’t really exist but is apparently widespread in its usage.
And how many among us have had enough of sitting through repeated ‘excuse me’s” while someone we are talking to takes unlimited text messages and cell phone calls? Now what bugs me is that all of these behaviors may seem innocent enough. But what’s really going on here is indifference to another person’s presence by the language we use or don’t use and our inability to keep technology in its’ proper place.
It’s like Emily Post, the four-star general in the army of manners and etiquette, 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 first.” She is my kind of woman and her advice will certainly come in handy for those of us who are intimidated by those formal holiday dinners.
But when I feel defeated in my crusade for a more mannered society, I’m content to remember what Wendell Wilkie said to critics after his defeat by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election: “The test of good manners is to be able to put up pleasantly with bad ones”.
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