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I don’t know about you, but I enjoy reading books on proper behavior.  I think this fancy stems from my younger years when my affluent aunt and uncle threw festive parties to which my family was invited.  We were the poor relations though, so I don’t think the other guests took us very seriously.

I wasn’t at all like my polished cousins who were recipients of many indulgent compliments.  While they got admired, I was on the receiving end of more than one of THOSE looks.  The kind that makes you feel like you were seagull turd or something.  Yes, you know what I’m talking about because you’ve either given them to some poor bastard  or been the subject of such glances yourself.  I wish I could cop the “I don’t give a shit” attitude, but I was not that worldly and my tender young pride bruised rather easily.  If I couldn’t have a fairy godmother who could turn my family into rich benevolent snobs, then I would have settled for a fairy guidance counselor who would give me a clue as to how to act like a charming, well-mannered, shiny little girl.

So I grew up and discovered that such wisdom was contained in books!

I think my favorite etiquette guru is Judith Martin who goes by “Miss Manners.”  I have three of her books on my shelf.

Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) upon receipt ...

Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct B...

Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour (Photo credit: bjornmeansbear)

Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (The Ultimate Handbook on Modern Etiquette). I consulted this book for wedding etiquette, as in when to send thank you cards, the proper phrasing of a wedding invitation and all that stuff.  Some people feel that all this minutia is useless and do we really need to know which fork to use?  Isn’t that just for snobs who brunch at the country club every Saturday?  While I am not of that set, (I would dearly love to be one day, but my secret desires will be covered in another post so stay tuned), I believe that true manners are more than just saying one’s pleases and thank-yous (though those are important, too).  Manners goes beyond etiquette; it is a way to show people you care about them.  It does not mean allowing someone to walk all over you, but it does mean conquering rudeness with courtesy.

At a great London Banquet, dear Queen Victoria lifted her fingerbowl and drank all the water.  She had to.  Her guest of honor, the Shah of Persia, had done it first.

Cover of "Miss Manners' Guide to Domestic...

Miss Manners’ Guide to Domestic Tranquility (The Authoritative Manual for Every Civilized Household, However Harried).  This little volume includes many pointers on dealing with house guests, house sitters and entertaining.  I learned that the proper thanks for being invited to someone’s home for dinner is to reciprocate.  I don’t mind admitting that I’m awful at this.  That’s probably because I am self-conscious about my hostessing skills.  By no means am I Martha Stewart, and I am overly paranoid about what my guests will think about my home, the menu and the wine.  But Miss Manners reminds me “Entertaining is supposed to be done purely for fun.”

Money, time, age and family life are not valid excuses for not doing one’s share.  Breakfast and teas, with little work and less cost, count as returns.  There is no perfect stage of life that makes entertaining effortless, and waiting for one would consume a– friendless– lifetime … People who entertain flawlessly nevertheless appreciate being invited to leave their perfect settings now and then.

Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children (For every despairing, bewildered, or panic-stricken parent).  I want perfect children.  Don’t you? Or can they at least be perfect during those limited instances when we meet other people?

“Manners are the basis of civilized society, and passing on the civilization to the young, so that they do not run around in a natural and savage state but can live easily and comfortably within the accumulated traditions and standards of their society, is what child-rearing is all about.”

So that’s the reason I’m constantly yelling .. ahem . . excuse me . . not yelling, but urging young Charlie to speak up, greet your elders, say please and thank you, and don’t interrupt.  Okay, I’ll admit it, I’ve yelled about not interrupting.

The chief tools of child-rearing are example and nagging.

Oh good.  Except for that example part.  That’s the hardest.  Miss Manners covers etiquette questions from the Nursery through the post-graduate stage.  I found the advice both funny and helpful.

So don’t forget to send out your thank you notes (or thank you emails or thank you phone calls).

Until next time!