My mother and grandmothers began teaching me the laws of etiquette from a very young age. (I can remember lessons as far back as three years old.) Through all of the training, a solid group of sayings and thoughts on etiquette, manners, and protocol stuck with me. They have gotten me through many encounters within different settings, cultures, and countries in the company of all types of people and customs. You may have heard some of them along the way, but I’ll share them here with you, because I am confident they will help you shine in just about any protocol bind.
1. There is a time and place for everything (often abbreviated by moms as “Time and Place”). This saying encourages you to remember that you should consider where you are and what is going on around you, before you speak or act. For example, if you are already at the party surrounded by other people, that is not the time to tell your girlfriend she looks like she is gaining weight and her dress makes her look pudgy around the middle. Or consider that if you are at an academic function, that is not the time to run wild and go streaking across the stage.
2. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. (This is still my mother’s favorite saying.) You can and should tell the truth. It’s how you tell it that decides how the other person feels by the end of the conversation. So I can look at you and say, “Whoa you look like crap! What the hell happened to you?” or I can go with, “Hey, it’s been a rough morning. I might need a splash of cold water and a cup of coffee to pick me up too. Want to come with me?” The message is sent either way, but the latter phrasing cushions the message so that you aren’t directly offending the person.
3. If you aren’t sure, follow your host’s lead. Depending on what setting you are in, you would follow the example of the person who invited you, the highest ranking person, or the leader of the group. If you are attending a formal dinner party and don’t know where to sit, look to your host(ess) for a cue. When you are out with coworkers and don’t know if it is okay to order alcohol, wait until the boss or the person who holds the most superior position orders his/her drink and then decide based on what he/she is having.
4. Money can’t buy class. (Wealth does not equal taste.) How many times have you seen this? A new money pop star, crass heiress, brash entrepreneur, a friend who landed a good job, etc. and they have no upbringing, but they find themselves amidst high society and they just don’t know how to act. They need to either learn on their own or be guided in what is appropriate to say, do, wear and so on. But believe me when I say, no amount of money in the world will improve their behavior amongst and towards others (unless maybe it’s money put towards etiquette training).
5. When in Rome, do as the Romans. Along with this concept, my paternal grandmother taught me that the key ingredient is making your host(ess) or friends feel comfortable being themselves around you. Don’t turn your nose up to their traditions, hobbies, cultural practices or daily lifestyle. Of course, you should draw some barriers for yourself, but not so many that you spoil the fun. Jump in, make yourself right at home and put everyone at ease.
6. Good manners will take you far in life. My maternal Grandma always reminded us that no matter what situation presents itself, always mind your manners. Be gracious, courteous and pleasant in your dealings with others, unless or until an issue calls for more aggressive behavior. And even then, you still maintain a dignified position, because when the issue is over you want to come out on top.