Oh, to be a properly finished young woman; one who knows how important it is to exit a room as well as enter it; how to exit a car in a ladylike fashion, which knife or fork to use and to float with the ease of a graceful dandelion from social situation to social situation and without breaking a sweat.
When I was much younger, my mother made me take a rather protracted course in manners and etiquette. It was an attempt for me to spend my teen years and my adult years with poise, tact, confidence…..you know, all that shit.
I can’t remember how long the whole course was, but I know the classes were an excruciating seven to eight hours in length, every weekday and I remember resenting that it ate into a chunk of my precious summer break. I only knew one other girl in the class. We became better friends a few years later (quite the rebellious ones were we) and if we learned anything in that class, we never used it.
This was the 70’s. We were true “tweens” back then. We were in between eras. We were too young to be hippies, Vietnam ended in 1975, so did Nixon’s political career. Carter to was too Milquetoast to protest. There was nothing to radicalize. Then Reagan took over and well…what can I say? There was disco which in my opinion, was the bleakest time in musical history. I’m including the zither, here.
But as much as I didn’t want to be in this class, I still remember a few things and yes, they have served me well on the few occasions I’ve needed them.
I learned the proper way to exit a car. If you’re not with a date and a chauffeur isn’t present (uh-huh) then you’ve no choice but to open the car door by yourself. Do so with your arm completely extended; open la puerta as wide as the length of your arm . Do it smoothly and gracefully. And for the love of everything sacred, keep your legs together!! Swivel on your derrière towards the door and put both feet feet on the ground at the same time, then place one foot slightly ahead of the other (for balance). Again, legs together. No one wants to see panties, a hint of Depends or a C-section scar. Although I once knew a certain guy named Owen who would’ve paid for the privilege of that particular visual trifecta.
But contemporary women who live and work in pants have altered this mindset considerably, still a properly finished women enters and exits a car this way be it wesring slacks, a burka, pajamas, a sari….whatever.
Did I mention you can only use your hand to lift yourself off the seat??? Placing your hand anywhere on the interior portion of the door is strictly verboten.
Oh really??? Tell THAT to my arthritic knees, elbow, shoulders, wrists and rectum. Yes, mine is. My proctologist marvels over the fact.
All cutlery should be used from the outside in, depending on the course. There are fish wives and fish knives.
When making formal introductions in a social setting, you introduce the person of lesser social standing to the person of greater social standing. As if Queen Elizabeth, Dirty Jimmy Joe McAsscrack, (Canoga Falls’ local panhandler) and I would ever be at a party together.
Speaking of parties, when you enter a party for the first time, walk -in and pause for a few seconds as you scan it visually. Optimum time allotted for this? Three seconds to your left, three seconds at dead center and three allowed for a glance to right. Identify your host, walk up and offer polite greetings, extolling your joy at being invited to the party. In other words, lie. If the host is no where in sight, find someone you know well or well enough. Or just do as I do, bypass everyone and head straight to the bar.
Never be photographed holding anything that could harm your reputation. I would learn later this means a drink, a can of beer, a cigarette, a coke vile, a joint, a plastic bottle of Xanax—prescribed to your aunt, or holding a purse from last season and so on.
Napkins have their proper place. This was beaten into my psyche by my mother as much as it was my etiquette teacher. Don’t unfold your napkin above the table. It’s an action that shouldn’t be seen. Do it above your lap, but below the table.
Don’t wad your napkin in a crumpled heap on the table. It stays in your lap (folded in half) while others are still eating. When everyone is finished eating, fold your napkin in a casual, liaises-faire manner on the left side of your plate while still seated. Once your folded napkin has been placed on the table, stand and run like hell towards the exit with the hopes someone else will pay the tab.
Need to visit the head in the middle of the meal? Place your napkin on the seat of your chair. No need to announce your intended destination. It’s impolite. If you do and dining with my family, once out of earshot, everyone in will trash you unmercifully. Word to the wise, should you find yourself spending an evening with the Kendrick family, don’t do it. Politely decline the invitation and find a nice quiet corner and count your blessings. Trust me, we’ve made Teamsters go fetal.
I could piecemeal a few other mannnerfied memories, but why drone on? The days of proper finishing schools that included semesters, room and board have gone by the wayside. These these schools were hot, hot, hot in the 40’s. Princess Diana attended a famous one in Switzerland which has since gone mammaries up. As evidenced by Diana’s enrollment, the students at these once proud institutions, especially finishing schools in the US, were daughters of wealthy parents who wanted mademoiselles, India Euegennia Smithson Barcode or Elizabeth (Bitsy) Olivia Soapdish von Standoffish to find suitable husbands (read: men from families just as wealthy) and etiquette was viewed as some kind effective of social snare.
Look, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with manners. To be honest, I have a real problem with anyone who uses a fork while sitting amidst pristine white linen, to liberate remnants of a salmon Niçoise from his or her molars. But I feel some of these rules are a tad arcane and aren’t always applicable to situations today. But generally speaking, good table manners will always be relevant.
If you don’t have time, the money or a pushy mother, or a simple, laid back lifestyle, don’t worry about learning about formal introductions, how to recognize a cold meat fork or knowing effects caviar has on metal utensils. But manners are a must. They’re life hacks that are extremely beneficial. There are many on-line courses and You Tube has plenty of videos that can teach you not to be a rude, raging slob.
So, ultimately, what is class? Glad you asked. It’s being helpful, polite, respectful, aware, creative, authentic, funny and above all, it’s being kind.
These are the things that are the ultimate definition of class and things that aren’t.
Such as being a smooth, condescending operator who knows he’s in deep state debt but ignores it: wears Armani with a Patek Philippe watch on his wrist while ordering Cristal paid for on a credit card a mere $.99 from being maxed out in the bar of a snooty restaurant where he knows he’s less than five minutes away from being banned for a second time.
Don’t use drugs, but always use a napkin. Following this rule is a two-fer for the late Nancy Reagan. Do it for her!!!