Tag Archives: etiquette

Real Men: Is There Any Hope?

Lately the news has been full of “Boys behaving badly” headlines.  There was that International Monetary Fund guy.  Then came Arnold Schwarzenegger.  And all this week, we have been barraged with waaayy too much information about Congressman Anthony Weiner.  All of these politicians can find plenty of company with pro athletes (Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger), Hollywood personalities (Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson), and musicians (just about every rapper).  We certainly sem to be lacking in high-profile male role models these days.

Naturally, I don’t rely on celebrities to model good behavior for Junior.  His dad gives him plenty of examples every day of acceptable male decorum.  And I try to point out examples of what not to do when I see them at Wal-Mart or church or Wal-Mart.  Sadly, there are plenty of teachable moments out there. 

Imagine my delight when I found a blog called The Art of Manliness.  I spent a whole lot of time there today reading about manly skills, several ways to tie a necktie, refining conversation skills, and good manners.  There are videos on perfecting those pesky Windsor knots, lots of photos about matching shirts with ties, tips on ironing dress shirts –I LOVE this!  There are also less superficial topics such as preparing for job interviews, finding your calling in life, and getting your finances in order.  How awesome is it that there is an entire blog devoted to separating men from “guys.”  You can be sure that Junior will be spending a lot of time consulting this site as part of his “Life Skills” curriculum.

Now, the poor kid may not reap immediate benefits from this education.  In fact, it may be just the opposite.  He’s heading off to an academic camp next week, spending way more time than usual with kids his own age.  There’s nothing like total immersion in teen culture to show you how much the traditional argument about homeschooling and socialization is a bunch of crap.  The last time Junior went to camp, 2 years ago, his roommates spent their free time experimenting with candy bars in the microwave.  Their group projects on rocketry involved how funny toilets on the moon would be.  With any luck, the difference between boys at 12 and boys at 14 will be monumental.  All I know is that Junior would call me every night from that camp expressing how frustrated he was with these kids that all acted like morons.  Apparently, all of Junior’s training in manners, conversation, and martial arts bearing did nothing to ingratiate him with his peers.  To them, even though he was smart and athletic and skilled at video games, he was completely alien because he didn’t see the attraction of rough-housing with dorm room property or trying to blow things up in a microwave after lights out.

Have I scarred my kid for life with my focus on manners and courtesy and values?  Or have I invested in a generation that, hopefully, will see fewer crotch shots in cyberspace and Weiner jokes?  Somebody back me up here.  Wouldn’t the image of a pleasant young man holding the door for an elderly lady go a long way toward removing the Weiner underway image from the place it’s burned onto your retina?  Just sayin’.

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Those Were the Days

Did you ever wonder if you were born at the wrong time in history or if some freak cosmic glitch dropped you into the wrong point in time?  Now, as a faithful Catholic, of course I don’t believe in reincarnation or cosmic glitches, for that matter.  But I do sometimes wonder why I am so drawn to the lifestyle of previous generations.  The post-war generation in particular.  Apparently, I’m not alone in this.  According to this New York Times article, vintage fashion has made a big comeback.  Not the 1980s look, either.  It’s more than the fashion, though.  Two blog posts, here and here, got me thinking about the good old days of ladies and gentlemen.

Yes, I know the 1950s and ’60s weren’t without their problems.  There was the Cold War Soviet menace with its threat of nuclear holocaust and Vietnam brewing.  Brown vs. Board of Education may have been the law of the land, but racial segregation and discrimination weren’t going anywhere soon.   Ask any historian and you’ll learn that women were oppressed and relegated to domestic drudgery.  And behind many picture-perfect, happy American families lurked alcoholism, abuse, or depression.

There are plenty of things worth bringing back, though:

Image from grandmothersattic Etsy shop

Girdles:  I can remember my mom wearing them well into the ’70s. (Sorry, Mom.)  Were they comfortable?  No.  But slip a dress on over one and, Wow!  What a difference!  A real lady wouldn’t leave the house without one.  These days, thanks be to God, girdles are making something of a comeback in the form of Spanx and similar “shapewear.”  That’s a friendlier name than “girdle,” I guess.  Hollywood starlets wear ’em on the red carpet, and better clothing stores routinely recommend them for everyday wear.  If we are a society that’s all about feeling good about ourselves as well as looking good, how on earth can we accept THIS as our normal, satisfactory appearance:

Manners:  Remember when people had some?  Deportment and good penmanship used to be part of the school curriculum way back when.  It used to be important to know how to behave in public, how to greet people, and how to be a good citizen.  The grammar textbook SuzyQ used in 8th grade, Voyages in English 8, copyright 1962, included detailed lessons in good manners.

Introductions

When we bring home a guest whom our parents do not know we should introduce him to them…We should always be courteous, gracious, and cordial.

MODEL: AN INTRODUCTION

KATHLEEN: Mother, this is my new friend, Dorothy Coll.  Dorothy moved here from Gesu parish.

MOTHER:  How do you do, Dorothy.  I hope you will be very happy in this neighborhood.

DOROTHY:  How do you do, Mrs. Fries.  If all the girls are like Kathleen, I know I am going to like it.

Do you ever hear anyone say, “How do you do” anymore?  Here was the section on writing (Yes, writing!) thank you letters:

The well-bred person always says “Thank you” for any gift or favor.  The letter need not be long, but it should be friendly and sincere…

MODEL: A “THANK YOU” LETTER

Dear Mrs. Cray,

     How can I ever thank you sufficiently for such a pleasant day as yesterday?  Mother claims I even talked about it in my sleep last night!

     The trip to Radio City was a delightful experience, and the visit to Mother Cabrini’s shrine was most impressive.  Indeed the entire day, from the moment we set foot in New York until we boarded the train for Hartford, was a real joy.

     I want you to know that I am very grateful to you for inviting me to share this memorable experience with Jeanne.  I am sure we shall never forget our first visit to New York.

                                                                                         Affectionately yours,

                                                                                         Patricia Dacey

I think I would burst into tears if I ever received such a gracious thank you note.  Today, you have to spend big bucks to get your kids educated at cotillion classes or manners camps.  Even then, the extent of the curriculum is the obvious stuff, like table manners, saying “please” and “thank you,” and good sportsmanship.  That’s the best we can do?  Is it too much to ask in our modern society for a gentleman to hold a door open for a lady or stand when she comes to the table?  What about children addressing adults as “Mrs. Jones”  instead of “Miss Tracey?”  Are “ma’am” and “sir” confined only to military members now?

So if you put it all together, what do you get?  Well, maybe if we women put a little more effort into dressing like a lady, say “Mad Men” style,

we might get a little more treatment like this:

Not that women bear the full responsibility for improving their appearance.  Maybe more men would act like gentlemen if they dressed the part.  You know: save the ball cap for an athletic event, same goes for the track pants; try a button-down shirt every now and then.  And by all means, wear a coat and tie when you go out to a nice restaurant or club or to church.

A disclaimer: I have never watched the show “Mad Men” since we don’t get any premium TV channels.  I’m certainly not advocating the behavior portrayed in the show.  I’m just saying that I often feel like you could plunk me down in 1960, and I would feel more at home in that era than I do now.  Yes, I would wear the girdle, the gloves, and the little hat.  And I would be expecting doors to be opened and chairs to be pulled out.  Another disclaimer:  I actually get all of this treatment from Darling Husband even without the girdle.  Jealous?

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Listen up to “The King’s Speech”

I had a rare treat last week: I went to the movies alone.  While Darling Husband took the kids to experience the latest Narnia installment in all of its 3-D glory, I sat contentedly in the neighboring theater delighting in “The King’s Speech.”  The film was right up my alley:  modern historical topic (my specialization in college), British (spent a year studying there while in college), with a focus on duty and manners (some of the Uncommonhousewife’s favorite topics).

I was quite possibly the youngest person in the half-full theater that Wednesday afternoon.  The rest of my fellow movie-goers were either Baby Boomers or those born during World War II, therefore having no memory of those years.  Hardly a group you would expect to cheer for a stuffy old royal struggling to preserve the monarchy.  Yet we did cheer and laugh out loud.  The acting was brilliant.  Colin Firth deserves every Best Actor award there is for his portrayal of George VI, a severe stammerer.  But why did a movie with absolutely no action draw us all in and keep us holding our breath in suspense at times?

An easy answer is that we were simply rooting for the underdog.  I experienced the frustration and anxiety associated with stuttering when Junior went through a brief bout of it between the ages of 2 and 3.  He had been an early talker, perhaps trying to imitate his big sister, when all of a sudden he began to stutter.  It only lasted a few months, but it was so difficult to watch him struggle to get those first syllables out of his mouth without prompting him or saying, “Come on, spit it out.”  Certainly we in the audience wanted to see King George overcome his challenges, even if he was the biggest royal snob.

And that’s the interesting thing.  We love him for his snobbiness.  We like to see him relaxed and at ease in private with his family, but we respect his dignity and sense of duty to pick up the pieces after his brother tosses over the monarchy in favor of his own personal happiness.  So are we Americans, the most self-centered society of “if it feels good, do it” folks, coming around to the ideas of sacrifice of personal comfort, the need for civility, and the realization that there are things more important than personal fulfilment?  I certainly hope so.  And Peggy Noonan seems to think so in her recent Wall Street Journal article.  She describes the movie this way:

It’s about someone being a grown-up, someone doing his job, someone assuming responsibility. It is about a time when someone was taking on the mantle of leadership, someone was sacrificing his comfort for his country.

Someone was old-school. Someone wasn’t cool.

Wow.  Not exactly the stuff that typically makes a move a block-buster.  As I said, Colin Firth should and very well might win Best Actor awards.  But I wouldn’t be surprised to see the film passed over for Best Picture awards.  These days, that honor usually goes to edgy, risky (or risqué) films about oppression or upending traditional values.  No matter.  Perhaps the big names in the cast will draw enough viewers to send a message to film-makers:  “This is what we want to see and need to see in these dreary and dangerous times!”

In spite of the R-rating (entirely for language), I’m thinking the kids should see this movie.  Everyone should see this movie.  Go see it.  Today!  Shoo!

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Dress Code

When the invitation to the Hail and Farewell party arrived, I noted the date, time, and place of the event.  Then I turned my attention to the bottom with dread:

Attire…Casual

There it was.  The Bermuda Triangle of dress code.

Does anyone really know what “casual” means?  There are so many variations of it: business casual, resort casual, smart casual, weekend casual, beach casual.  And even those are open to liberal interpretation.

For guys, the confusion is all about the shirt, because, let’s face it, khaki trousers are nearly always appropriate.  So that leaves him wondering whether “casual” means button-down shirt with no tie, sport coat or none, or maybe even golf shirt. I’m proud to say here that my darling husband is emerging from the “golf shirt is always appropriate” mentality.

For women, the invitation might just as well read, “Attire: yes.”  Dress or skirt?  Pants or capris?  Basically, all that the “casual” directive clarifies for me is that I need not wear panty hose, and that I should probably stay away from anything too sparkly.  That narrows it down.

This is a military social function.  The entire guest list is made up of people who are told exactly what to wear every day and the spouses who share their closets.  Leaving them so adrift on the appropriate attire is about as kind as asking them to put together a jigsaw puzzle that came in a box with no picture on the front.

Hosts and hostesses of America, you know what sort of dress you have in mind.  It’s your party.  I’m asking you: please, give us a hint.

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