During my time growing up in the South (in Texas), there existed a torture device for young girls of a certain status, known as “Charm School”. Its northern/European counterpart was known as “Finishing School”, I believe. It specialized in classes covering manners, deportment, hygiene, grooming and above all, situational etiquette, i.e. the social graces.
My mother (a very determined woman) was adamant that her little tomboy learn to be a proper young lady and enrolled me in the Sugar n’ Spice Charm School. I went “reluctantly”, meaning I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to a two-hour class, three times a week. For six months.
My mother has her pride and joy: a picture of me (looking a lot like Buffy from Family Affair) at charm school graduation in a dress and white knee socks, wearing my rhinestone tiara and holding my diploma. I was ten. I didn’t technically drop out, just mentally. I know I heard the lessons because somehow, it all came back to me when needed later in life. I thought I’d share a few of the lessons…and my failures.
It is important to be aware of your situation to determine how you sit in a chair, especially in mixed company. This will determine not only which direction you face in the chair, but whether to cross your legs and if so, whether you cross them above the knee or at the ankles. The hands should be relaxed in your lap, either lightly clasped or resting one atop the other.
This does not mean its okay during etiquette class to slump down in the chair, legs spread wide with arms crossed over your chest, glaring and muttering about wasting time when you could be playing football.
Your attire should be appropriate for the activity, weather, and season. Formal occasions require a long gown, mid-calf skirts are appropriate cocktail or tea length. Short skirts should never fall more than one inch above the knees and should only be worn for the most casual of occasions. Shorts should only be worn at home or as required for athletic events.
Dress for the occasion does not mean its okay to wear cutoff denim shorts, a ball cap, tube socks and a University of Texas, Hook ‘Em Horns t-shirt to church because “God doesn’t care how you dress since he let Jesus walk around barefoot in a robe.”
Speak demurely and stick to neutral subjects such as the weather or literature. Avoid controversial subjects such as politics, religion or current events.
Shouting like a banshee and punching out the neighbor’s son because you thought he stole your Nolan Ryan baseball card from his first season with the Astros is not acceptable deportment for a young lady.
The telephone should be answered with a polite greeting, then wait for the caller to identify who they are trying to reach. You may also politely ask who is calling before gently placing the phone down and going to notify the party that they have a call.
It is not correct to answer the phone “City Morgue, you stab ’em, we slab ’em”. It is also not okay to move the handset two inches from your mouth and yell for your mother that the aunt that looks like Yoda and smells like fish is on the phone.
Proper table and dining etiquette:
When ordering or waiting on your meal to be served, you hands should be in your lap, not on the table. Always be mindful of the place setting and using the proper silverware for each course. While eating, do not make unnecessary noise, such as slurping, chewing loudly or clanking of dinnerware.
Playing “Seafood/See-food” or using the steak knives to sword fight with your brother at a dinner with your father’s boss is apparently not correct behavior.
When living in Asia in my 20’s, I had to adapt to a whole new set of do’s and don’ts. It is okay to burp at the table, but not okay to allow your dining partners to see you use a toothpick (cover the maneuver with your hand). My own personal faux-pas: it is considered an offense if you are the guest of honor at a dinner and refuse to eat the fish’s eyeballs with your host. Sorry Emily Post, but I will never be THAT proper.
So though I am aware of how I should behave in public, whether I choose to or not is a different story.