Eleven years ago Will and I moved from the South to the Midwest. Our first year in Iowa we weren't able to go home for Christmas. Some new friends who were also staying in town for Christmas kindly invited all the poor souls who were spending the holidays "alone" to come over on the afternoon of Christmas Day for food, games and fellowship.
We had lived there only since July and had not been invited over to anyone's home yet. As we arrived, we were surprised to see a pile of shoes just inside the door. As guests arrived, they were shedding their shoes before further entering the home. We followed suit and did the same. Later, on the way home, I remarked to Will that I was glad I had put on new socks that morning. Will, who is notorious for have holes in his socks, told me that he had quickly flipped his socks around so that the holes were on the soles of his feet and hidden from the others. Oops.
Basic Etiquette; Variations by Regions
We weren't sure what to make of this practice. Was it simply our host's preference? Was it a regional rule? Was it rude to leave your shoes on? As we made friends and invited them over to our home and they invited us to theirs, we quickly discovered it was indeed a regional etiquette rule and the norm in that area.
The same holds true for Minnesota. We are quite used to this "rule" now and even practice it in our own home. My Darling Minnesota Boys immediately slip off their shoes upon arriving home or at a friend's home to play and even when visiting grandparents in Texas. We now always make sure our socks are clean and without holes or bare feet well-manicured before heading to someone's home.
In Texas, our home state, this is unheard of. In fact, it drives my in-laws nuts, both that we would like them to remove their shoes in our home and that there is a pile of shoes next to their back door when we are visiting.
While some rules of etiquette ring true for everyone, everywhere such as the three magic words of please, thank you and excuse me, there are a number of regional, cultural and religious rules that we may not know about until stumbling into a situation where it's being practiced and you're expected to understand it and follow it too. Other more universal manners include basic table etiquette, polite introductions and common courtesies.
Where Is Your Mother?
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure to talk to Ava Carroll-Brown, etiquette expert and author of the new book, "Where Is Your Mother?" This book is a basic guide to etiquette. It's not intimidating or confusing as some of the huge volumes of manners can be. This is a slim book that runs the gamut from essential table manners to stationery to cell phones to gifting issues.
I asked Ms. Carroll-Brown how she defines etiquette. Her response is that proper etiquette is a combination of simple grace and common sense. Ms. Carroll-Brown reminds us that etiquette is about thinking of the feelings of others. Based on our conversation, having good manners means that you are prepared about what to do or say or how to react or respond or behave in any situation. Being prepared for each situation will put both you and others you interact with at ease.
It's Ms. Carroll-Brown's opinion that having good etiquette is having power; a power of knowledge that sets us free; gives us confidence and polishes our appearance. She wrote this book with the intention that anyone, in any phase of life, could pick up her book of manners and look up the information that he or she needs or sit and read it cover to cover in order to be completely prepared. I found this to be the case after I received my copy of the book.* I repeatedly picked it up and flipped through it with no specific purpose. Each time I found some gem of information regarding how to reach out and be of help to a friend grieving a loss, a guide to tipping, reminders of simple table manners to teach my kids, etc.
Ms. Carroll-Brown's tone in print and over the phone is never threatening or condescending. She truly believes the world would be a better place if we all minded our manners and thought about how to treat others and considered their feelings.
Etiquette Pet Peeves
I talked with Ms. Carroll-Brown about her top three etiquette pet peeves Here's what she said,
Table Manners; she feels that table manner are very important and she spends a great deal of time on this topic in the book;
Silence; Ms. Carroll–Brown says that silence can be as rude as non-stop talking or interrupting conversations. Engage in conversation; excuse yourself from the table or a conversation, rather than just walking away without a word; and
Stationery Errors; there is no excuse for making errors on invitations, failing to reply to an invitation or neglecting to write thank you notes.
Etiquette Musts for Parents
I also asked Ms. Carroll-Brown what she thinks are the top five manners that parents must teach their children:
Basic Table Manners: sit down and eat, stay in your space, napkin in lap, chew with mouth closed, no talking with mouth full;
Use Flatware: This is an easy task to teach early on, rather than letting your kids use their hands;
The Three Magic Words: Please, Thank you and Excuse me
Write Thank You Notes: It's considerate of the gift-giver. Have a younger child draw a picture, purchase the fill-in-the-blanks cards for children who can write, let you child dictate a note to you.
Think of Others: Teach your kids to be inclusive of others in a group or at the park, take responsibility for your own actions and share with others.
Ms. Carroll-Brown has raised her own children and now has grandchildren. She noted that her brood is well-mannered, but not perfect and that the key to teaching this basic etiquette is little reminders and gentle lessons.
You will note that these are not ground-breaking new rules. These are simple graces, basic manners, common sense and common courtesies, as the subtitle of the book and the author stresses. For the most part, we know these things, but we are busy; we neglect to teach our kids these things; and our society moves on a little less thoughtful, a little less courteous and little by little we become completely self-absorbed and oblivious to anyone or anything around us.
So, take a few minutes at the dinner table to talk about staying in your own space or staying seated during the meal or how to excuse yourself from the table; or after receiving a gift talk about the giver of the gift and how thoughtful it was to send the gift, regardless of what the gift is, etc. There are numerous everyday scenarios that can be used to teach these "rules" in an enjoyable way.
Ms. Carroll-Brown has been so kind as to provide a copy of Where Is Your Mother? to be given away here on Motherly Law. If you are not versed in every line of Emily Post, but would like to have a basic understanding of etiquette and simple grace for your purposes and for teaching your kids, then you're going to want to enter this giveaway.
Here's what you need to know:
I will use random.org to "draw" the winner on Thursday at 10 p.m. CST.
To enter, you may:
leave a comment below;
"Like" me on Facebook (Motherly Law or click Facebook icon above);
Follow me on Twitter (@MotherlyLaw or click Twitter icon above);
Share this post;
Subscribe to Motherly Law's RSS feed (click RSS icon above);
Follow Ms. Carroll-Brown on Twitter (@AvaCarrollBrown); and
Subscribe to Ms. Carroll-Brown's blog: http://wiym.tumblr.com/
Leave a comment for EACH entry telling me what you did. So, if you do all of these things for a chance to win, you will have 7 comments. If you are interested in purchasing this book or reading more about it, you can find it here on Amazon. Good luck! Over and out...
*I must disclose that I did receive this book free of charge for review purposes. However, the opinion and review of the book are my own.