The Morning “Chit-Chat”
When the question of a certain point of etiquette arose among a group of us the other night the lady who always knows somehow, spoke up: “This is the way it looks to me," she said, and we all listened, as we always do when this sweet oracle speaks. “This is the way it looks to me. I think you should go first because that's the common sense way, and a teacher I had once told me that if I were ever in doubt about any point of etiquette to think ‘which is the common sense’ way, and let that decide it. ‘For every point of etiquette,’ he said, ‘No matter how foolish it seems, is built originally on some good reason, and often you can find out the proper thing to do by looking for the reason.’”
Doesn't that appeal to you as a pretty good test to apply when you are in an etiquette quandary? It does to me. And here's another. When you are in doubt as to which of the two things is proper to do, do the kinder and it's 10 to 1 you will be doing the right one. I know a little country girl who, when she dined for the first time at a stylish city home, was very much puzzled as to whether she ought to say, "Thank you" when the maid bought the serving of soup around to her place.
She decided that it would seem countryfied to do so, and received her plate in silence. She says she will never forget the flush of shame that swept over her when the mistress of the home thanked the maid, as she received her plate. If the little girl had done the kinder thing, she would have done the right thing, and she says she will never again depart from that criterion.
Speaking of that incident reminds me, by the way, of a home at which I visit, where it is the invariable custom for the master of the house, no matter what guests are present to serve the mistress of the house first. In this way she sets the example when there's any doubtful point of table etiquette, so that all her guests need to do is watch her. Isn't that an exquisite bit of thoughtfulness? To me, it seems a custom that ought to be adopted everywhere.
That there can be no really good manners without the goodness of heart, and that true courtesy consists not in forms alone, but in forms made living by the spirit of goodwill, are facts that we have much lost sight of in our admiration of fashion and wealth, but they are sterling facts just the same.
Let me commend to the young person who wants to be well-bred. Lord Chesterfield's most excellent definition of good breeding: “Good breeding is a combination of much sense: some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others, with a view to obtain the same indulgence from them.” —Ruth Cameron, 1910
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia