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Old fashioned Etiquette

February 22, 2010

Do you teach your kids old-fashioned etiquette? Actually, I’m not sure why it is called old-fashioned if really etiquette is etiquette in general.

Do you teach your boys to open doors for women? Do you teach both of your kids to say “yes, ma’am, yes, sir?”

I’m just wondering. I don’t think the majority of us do. By the time we get our kids saying please and thank you I think the majority of us stop. Well, we may go on to teach them that they can’t go sliding down the slide before the bottom pathway is clear or that they must wait their turn on the swings, etc, but as far as picking up something an old lady dropped on the ground? Probably not. What if you were to take a bus or subway. Would you make your four-year old get up if an elderly person, pregnant woman or someone disabled got on? Or do you think that your four-year old has more right to sit there? Or perhaps you think he has just as much right and since he got on first, well….

Queenie hasn’t yet gotten to that stage, although she says thank you for everything that you give her, says please (although we still have to remind her quite a bit), gives toys back to kids who drop them at that park and is generally polite. As far as a two-year old goes, I guess.

But I read an article today about an English teacher in Arizona teaching his male students to open doors for the female students, stand when the girls leave the room and to even pull out the chair for the girl to sit down. Principe doesn’t even do that. He was so embarrassed the first time he met my grandfather and was told that he should learn to open the car door for me because his granddaughter deserved to be treated like a lady. “What’s the matter?” my grandfather asked him. “Weren’t you ever taught how to treat a lady?”

Few things embarrass Principe, and that was one of the few times I truly saw him get pink in the face.

It isn’t like his parents are uncultured either. They are very polite people having been raised in the “old-fashioned” ways, but his father doesn’t wait for his mom to walk ahead of him on the way to communion or out the door. Nor does he open the car door for her. Nor does he get up to push in her chair. Honestly, I think she would tell him to stop being tonto (silly) if he did.

So then, has it gotten to the point that we women are so embarrassed to be treated like ladies that we have basically forced men to stop behaving like gentlemen? After all, if the demand isn’t there, why would they make the effort?

I thought about the the other day as I got on the metro here in Toulouse. I still like to compare country experience and so make mental notes of certain differences between Spain and France. It’s entertaining and interesting. (What? I need very little to be entertained….!)

The other day I was surprised to see that no one offered the seven month pregnant woman holding the toddler’s hand a chair. If it were all elderly people sitting I wouldn’t have minded so much, but everyone sitting in a chair was between the age of 7 and 40 and no one, not ONE person even offered. I had to squat in order to hold on to Queenie by the waist so she wouldn’t lose her balance while holding on to the post in order to not lose MY balance.

This would never happen in Spain. Not even in Madrid, the big metropolis of the country. I’m not saying that every young and able bodied person would have stood in order to offer me their seat, but at least ONE person would have and most likely at least two or three would have. The most interesting thing is that French people are overly polite. I mean, when you go to the market and give the usual thanks as they hand over your fruits and veggies they say things like, “No, no it is I who should thank you.” Wow. Everyone here says please and thank you and good-bye and how are you, etc. To the point that you feel like a terribly ignorant and uncultured person if you don’t also go over the top with your own pleases and thank yous. But then they don’t offer pregnant women seats on the metro… Perhaps it was just an off day.

When I think about America, barring probably the deep South, I’m pretty sure we are on an even worse level. We rarely say please or thank you as adults, we rarely reply to the greetings that the door people give us on the way into the store, we rarely hold the door open for anyone (not even our grandmas) and we certainly don’t go out of our way for others. Not usually. Not unless we had severely strict parents. And even then it would take a miracle for the teenage and college years not to have stripped us of any sort of etiquette that those terrible parents of our tried to instill in us.

So I’m wondering, do you teach your kids etiquette? How about you, do you have etiquette? I’m pretty sure I want to teach my girls etiquette. And I’m pretty sure I’m lacking in that department. Nothing teaches best like example either…..hmmmmm.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2010 3:31 pm

    My daughter doesn’t quite get etiquette yet but she’s working on it. If she gives you something or you give her something she says “Thank you welcome”. I guess over doing it is better than not doing it at all.

    • wideopenworld permalink*
      February 23, 2010 2:53 pm

      So cute! Hey, it all begins somewhere!

  2. February 22, 2010 5:12 pm

    My daughter is 7 so I think that all is done already at this stage. But I can tell you it is definitely worth it when people comment on how well behaved she is, I am so proud!

    • wideopenworld permalink*
      February 23, 2010 2:54 pm

      That is what I hope will happen to me someday!

  3. February 22, 2010 6:49 pm

    This is a bit of a touchy subject for me. My parents were adamant that my brother and I say “Yes, Ma’am,” “No, Sir,” etc. when we were growing up (in Alabama) and they both really disapprove that I am not teaching my daughters to do the same. My reasoning is that I feel the enforced ma’am and sir are artificial and that they create distance that I don’t want between my children and I. Do I want their respect? Absolutely. I’m just not sure their respect can be created or earned by making them say two certain words.

    I do, however, work very hard to teach my girls the kinds of manners you describe here. I am much more conscious of – and particular about – their actions than their words. (Surprising since I am Word Girl?) I would certainly encourage my 10 year old or 8 year old to stand and offer their seat to a pregnant woman, an elderly person or anyone who seemed to need a seat more. They regularly hold doors open for people and are accustomed to helping others. I guess I am more concerned that I try to cultivate helpful and thoughtful hearts in my children, which will hopefully equate to good manners.

    • wideopenworld permalink*
      February 23, 2010 2:57 pm

      I don’t think we will teach our kids to say ma’am or sir. It has left society to the point that it sounds odd when people say it, almost military. My step-father tried to get us to say it and totally failed. It seemed so impersonal to call parents that. But I do want to teach my kids to shake hands (and give two kisses as we are in Europe) and not interrupt and have more respect for adults (even if strangers) and to just generally not think twice about holding doors open, giving up seats or helping someone out, you know? I agree with you in that cultivating thoughtfullness and helpfullness will probably lead right into good manners.

  4. Julie permalink
    February 23, 2010 12:59 am

    My children are still young (under 2), so I haven’t really got to this point yet. I really want to teach my son how to treat women well – but it is seen as old-fashioned.

    One thing I have started doing to try to give my kids a sense of respect for adults is for them to call adults by their last names (e.g. Mr. Brown, Mrs. Smith). It is amaing how hard this has been. Almost every adult (including the ones a generation above me) responds with “oh no, just call me Joanne” (or whatever). Sometimes I can’tbe bothered to explain my rationale and end up letting it go! Hard work to be consistent.

    • wideopenworld permalink*
      February 23, 2010 3:03 pm

      That would be hard! Growing up we were not allowed to call any adult by their first name. Many of my parents’ friends taught the same thing so it was easy in that circle. But now I hear adults complain about not wanting to be called by Mr or Mrs because it makes them feel old! I guess I would try to stick to my guns. All the adults will get the hint sooner or later and five to ten years from now they’ll be saying, “What polite children you have!”

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