My grandmother, if she were here today, would be thrilled knowing her unwavering insistence on manners and etiquette were not lost on me.
With perfect posture, hair always coiffed, nails always painted, she was perfectly composed. She believed in a classic, elegant attire with accessories to differentiate her looks -- whether it be a handbag, scarf or jewelry, she always made a statement. That statement was simple, understated elegance. She was the picture of class.
I hear her voice in my head when I find myself appalled at the absence of class in our society today. She would surely roll over in her grave. Today she would be saying, 'Never show your underwear in public. Leave something to the imagination. Put your phone down! Ladies don't sext!' They sure don't, Grammy. Her advice would be endless given today's culture, or she would be just plain horrified.
I am by no means a Proper Patty. My grandmother had many bones to pick with me, even as a three year old ('you are never too young for etiquette'). But I was raised with a certain standard that I considered 'the norm.' Manners and class went hand-in-hand. One did not exist without the other. However, in today's society, expecting 'the norm' is like looking for water in the desert.
Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but being 'old-fashioned' speaks to one's character. It is common courtesy to hold the door for someone, give up your subway seat for someone older, pregnant, handicap and yes, gentleman, for a lady. It was understood phone calls were made after receiving birthday cards and thank-you notes were sent acknowledging gifts. When invited as a guest to someone's home, you brought a gift. When you sneezed, someone blessed you. Saying please and thank you was expected.
I cannot count the number of times I've held the door for someone without receiving a thank you...how many sneezes have gone unblessed or the numerous wedding and baby gifts that I've sent without receiving written acknowledgement.
In the modern world, where sit-down-family-dinners are a thing of the past and children are being raised with a sense of entitlement, there is an absence of discipline and an abundance of self-centered behavior. When every child receives a trophy just for showing-up, consequences for a lack of hard work no longer exist. Instead, constant praise and rewards are given, perhaps overcompensating for our parent's generation of 'tough love,' creating a society with overly high self-esteem. Throw in social media sites and their huge influence on our culture, and extreme narcissism has followed.
Inevitably, self-centered behavior breeds bad manners and tests our morality. So how do we integrate manners and class into a modern day society of 'MEs'? What would my Grandmother say?
It's your image.
The connection between manners and morality is becoming more apparent. How you present yourself in public defines you. First impressions are everything. Whether that public image is true, you have created it.
A cross around one's neck and attending church on Sundays does not make one pious. Simply saying please and thank you certainly does not make one moral. But there is definitely a correlation between the well-mannered and the classy.
When your private life becomes public through social media, you open yourself up to judgment based on what you share with the world. Have you ever wondered why no one posts to Instagram from church? (posting to Twitter from a funeral is OK, according to Alec Baldwin) Instead, posting after Church when the real 'Sunday Funday' begins, with a drink in one hand, a dress barely covering 'the goods,' dancing atop a table. Because in the attention-starved culture we live in, the latter scenario garners more 'likes.' And, apparently God is not on Instagram.
Ladies, I'm not wearing the turtleneck or ankle-length skirt to the bar, but what happened to leaving something to the imagination? If you wear the completely sheer, leopard-print top with nothing but a very visible bra underneath, why wear the top at all? When you risk giving up 'the goods' by merely walking, maybe you could use an extra inch on that dress? And when your cleavage suggests that you should guide tours of The Grand Canyon, an extra button would go a long way. You may have just come from church. And you may not be the town tramp. But that is the image you portray.
Our icons used to be Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly...now we have the Kardashians. That doesn't bode well for our generation. In the words of Ron Burgundy, 'Stay classy!'
It is not always about you
We seem to feed into this generation's sense of entitlement creating the egocentric narcissist. Have you ever been on a date and the other person talks about themselves incessantly? Or the 'friend' you bump into on the street and in the five blocks you walk together, never asks about you? Or the consistently late person who thinks your time is less valuable? I say to those people, 'It is not always about you!' Take an interest in others. Ask questions. Inquire about someone else's life other than your own.
You may be beautiful, have the best this or the best that... But there is nothing more tasteless than the 'selfie.' Enough already! You may think you're fabulous, but you're certainly not humble. No one needs to see you in your sports bra showing off your abs, or bikini-clad, sporting the duck face.
By all means, take it all off and get freaky in the bedroom...or kitchen...or wherever your escapades take you. Just keep it private! A little modesty will go a long way.
Never flaunt your money
I recently saw an Instagram post of a Chanel-themed birthday cake. As I shook my head, disgusted, I wondered, is this how we are defining ourselves?
Money certainly doesn't buy you class. There is nothing tackier than flaunting one's wealth. It used to be uncouth to discuss the money you earned or labels you owned. Now we have the red carpet culture where the first question celebrities are asked is, 'Who are you wearing?' I'm guilty of it too, on occasion. But truthfully, I find the question to be tasteless.
The question used to be a faux-pas. Your status was recognized by how you were composed and the manners you elicit. You didn't depict your wealth by the amount of monograms you wore. The label was on the inside. Now, we are walking advertisements for the brands we wear. The exclusivity and allure is gone.
At one time, if you were part of the upper class, most likely, you were predisposed to proper manners and etiquette. Currently, the lines between manners and class are unclear.
When "Keeping up with the Kardashians" has become the standard, needing and flaunting 'stuff' in excess has become the norm. Instead of hard work and praising others for their achievements, our culture has become a materialistic competition. Through social media, we are privy to luxury vacations, yachts, champagne, Ferraris, and frequent postings of Louboutins and Chanel bags. The mentality that 'if they can have it, I can too' has warped our appreciation for luxury items. We have become a shallow culture of excess, greed...and credit card debt.
When you're 30 and live with your parents, maybe the Louboutins weren't the smartest purchase? Maybe it's time to look for your own home? Start paying rent and then see what you can afford. Or, just keep your purchase offline. This isn't show-and-tell.
Be humble. What you own shouldn't define you or anyone else. Your only competition should be yourself. The nice things you own and the travels you take should be a personal reminder of the hard work it took to attain.
Manners invoke Morals
One can certainly be polite without being virtuous, or have etiquette without morality. As children, we are taught manners with the intention of becoming moral or virtuous. The hope is that we internalize and rationalize etiquette to transform basic rule-following into genuine morality.
A civilization without basic rules is no longer civilized. These etiquette 'rules' or protocol, although vary from culture to culture, the underlying principles are the same. They give us concrete tools to communicate our moral attitudes effectively.
So as my Grandmother would say, 'Remember to mind your manners!' And if our generation doesn't thank you, I will. Thank you.
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