My maternal grandmother, whom I nicknamed Nana when I was tiny, has been on my mind lately. I am heading to Geneva for Labor Day weekend to celebrate her 90th birthday party – we are doing a huge family gathering, with family members coming from all over the world to honor her. Indeed, I am looking forward to meeting one of my cousin’s two daughters whom I have still not met (the oldest one is five!).
Anyway, back to my grandmother. In thinking about her upcoming party, I have been reminded of everything that I owe her, and how much of an influential presence she has been in my life. There is so much that I learned from her, and so much I still need to learn – but one of the things I am most grateful to her for, which I think of at least a few times per week, is having taught me manners and common courtesies. Her philosophy was always that even if we were not sure it would happen, we (her numerous grandchildren) had to be ready to meet the Queen. Which Queen? Any Queen …
Here are the tips she gave me which I use on a quasi-daily basis, and which I am working to teach to my stepson, and my godchildren. Most of these are obvious, but a reminder never hurts …
- Always use the magic words please, thank you, and you are welcome. No exception to this rule, ever. Do so with a smile, and the magic will work even better. Rudeness always begets rudeness.
- Table manners:
o I grew up in Europe, and so learned European table manners. Hands in loose fists always on the table, never on your lap (per my Nana, hands under the table lead the person across from you to wonder about what those hands are hiding …).
o On the contrary, elbows should never be on the table. Ever.
o Both hands should never have something in them at the same time except when cutting your food (i.e. put your fork down before picking up your wine glass).
o Always bring your utensil to your mouth, never bend your head down towards your plate.
o Chewing with your mouth open is shameful. Under all and any circumstances. This means chewing gum is never acceptable.
o When asked to pass the salt or pepper, the only appropriate way of doing so is to pass both together.
o Only cut one piece of your food at a time.
o Always say “please excuse me” when leaving the table.
o Always stand up to greet a guest who may be joining the table late.
o When seated at a table where you don’t know everyone, always walk around to each individual to introduce yourself, prior to taking your seat.
- Posture: always stand and sit up straight, shoulders back, bust forward. At the table, at your desk, while walking. It will make you seem talker, thinner, and more elegant.
- Common courtesies include holding the door for the person walking in behind you and giving up your seat in public transportation for an elderly traveler.
- Thank you notes are not optional. The general rule of thumb is that gifts need to be acknowledged with a thank you note unless opened in front of the giver. Furthermore, significant gifts or favors (including trips, a stay in someone’s home, a glowing letter of recommendation, etc.) should always be acknowledged by a hand written thank you note. (While my grandmother never taught us about email etiquette, I am not sure she even knows what an email is, I am 100% certain she would have said an email is never an appropriate replacement to a hand written thank you note).
- Never boast or show off. Understatement is the most elegant of accessories (in behavior as it is in dress).
I could go on and on … thank you Nana for everything you taught me about being proper and polite. While I have not yet met the Queen, these seemingly small details make a difference in my life every day.