Mum was well known when we were growing up, as a bear for good table manners. We were taught and nagged constantly to sit up straight, not to kick the table leg, to chew with mouths closed, to keep elbows off of the table, to use the knife and fork like the English portion of our forbears, and to make absolutely no noise while eating. Her response to our protestations was,
“ Some day if you ever have lunch with the Queen, you will thank me.”
I remember thinking that this was all so dreary. Who cared how a person ate his food? What difference did it make if we played hand-puppets with our grapefruit skins? Why did anybody care that we built damns out of mashed potatoes and gravy then bombed the construction with peas? It was all pretentious and tiresome. Now I know the truth. Good table manners are not for show, or to impress others. They were invented to make the rather unattractive process of ingesting food as pleasant as possible for one’s companions.
The same can be said of good manners in general. Good manners don’t show subservience. They show respect and consideration for our fellows. They are the grease on the axles of society, and as the world becomes more and more crowded, good manners become exponentially more important. They are an easy way to practice the Golden Rule.
As we liked it when polite behaviour was directed our way, so we were taught to send it outward. We were drilled relentlessly in saying “please”, “thank you”, “how do you do?” and “excuse me”. I have noticed that “please” always illicits a better response than “gimme”. As Mother said, “good manners don’t cost a cent but they are beyond price”.
We were taught to keep silent in church and anytime adults were speaking. We learned to write thank-you notes to anybody who gifted us, and we always held doors for adults. No adult was ever to be criticized by us at any time. We weren't old enough or experienced enough to have that right. Heaven knows we messed up a lot, and we didn't always remember our good manners, but our mother persisted.
I've had the dubious pleasure of being around so many unruly, rude, and untaught children over the past few years that the shock is gone, but the dislike remains. The only thing more annoying is the fatuous parents and grandparents who makes excuses for the little tyrants and who spin the tantrums and boorish behaviour into “expressing his individualism”. Oiy.
Yes, I taught good manners to my kids. I wanted people to say, “Oh boy! They brought the kids! “, rather than, “Crud! They brought those kids.” The good manners didn't hurt my children one iota, or me either, but the selfish, me-first behaviour of so many of their peers and their peers' kids certainly hurt the easy running of society's wheels. Without the grease of good manners, life is loud, awkward, dysfunctional, and non-productive, with a goodly smattering of finger-pointing and blaming. It is all so tiresome.
Hey Mum! Wherever you are, thank you for the lessons and the practice. I hardly ever make my empty grapefruit rinds sing “Dixie”, and I think I’m ready for that lunch with the Queen. And for those who worry about such things, no, I didn't feel the slightest bit repressed.