Miss Manners

My mother can tear you down with just one look. While other mothers patiently counted to three or pulled out “the naughty chair” when their child was acting up, my mother preferred the glare. It was so quick and subtle, that it was rarely noticed by others in our company, but it was a code between us that transmitted: You’re acting up, so mind your manners. Now. 

That’s why I’ve been so cognizant of etiquette my whole life; my mom wouldn’t tolerate anything other than perfection when it came to behavior at home and in more social environments. It sounds harsh, and certainly felt so at the time, but today I see what difference it makes between me and my contemporaries. The kids who were allowed to act like animals as children don’t really know how to navigate the world of adult situations which largely rely on the subtle, unspoken gestures of manners. Here are four things my mother taught me, that have become second nature to me and that I’d like to pass on.

Never put your back to anyone: This one is pretty easy, but when I apologize for doing it when I’m in a group of people, others are always confused as to what I did wrong. When you’re chatting in a group, make sure your back is never facing anyone (this goes for sitting as well as standing), which signals that you’re shutting them out from the conversation. If you’ve ever been the one intentionally or unintentionally left out of the circle because of a rude person, you’ll quickly realize the weight behind something as simple as body positioning.

Say hello to your elders first: Addressing elders, or people of a higher level than you first, as a symbol of respect, is necessary. Whether it be your auntie or an executive you’re trying to impress, leave a good impact by showing initiative and greeting them first. Treating important, wise people appropriately will set you apart from your peers who will just sit absorbed in their own world until someone is forced to make their way over to them and extract a polite greeting. After the most important people in the room, address everyone else at a formal social gathering.

Hold the door open for everyone: This should be done for every gender, sex, age, race, for someone holding five textbooks, for someone who’s holding nothing, for someone who is on crutches, someone who is out of breath, for anyone who is a living, breathing human. It’s just a nice thing to do, okay?

Never keep a tab among friends: This is something that I especially see abused among college-aged friends who are carefully counting their dollars, and even some adults. No one expects you to buy lavish, five-star dinners for your buds and then starve for two weeks, but if you buy someone dinner, or a drink, or loan $5 for a Boloco study break during finals, don’t keep track of every dime that you spend on them and patiently wait until it’s returned to you. 

You have friendships to share wisdom and insight and love, not to get free stuff every once in awhile. If you buy something for a friend, don’t expect anything in return. Do it out of the kindness of your heart: Do it because they make you feel good, give good advice, let you vent and everything else that comes along with being a good friend. Don’t go with them to Starbucks and then wait patiently by the register saying “Oh, well I bought you dinner two weeks ago, a coffee on Tuesday, and a movie ticket in January, so you owe me this latte.” It shows that, to you, friendship and generosity is a bar tab that needs to be settled. 

Now, if someone owes you quite a bit of money, let a couple of days pass, maybe until they get their next paycheck, and then politely say, “Hey, there’s this concert I want to buy tickets for, can we meet up this week over coffee for that $40?” That way they know there’s an issue of immediacy and you want to sit and catch up with them rather than just to take the money and run.