Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Profiles in Etiquette – Letitia Baldrige

Known as the ‘doyenne of decorum’ and as a social secretary to American First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, Letitia Baldrige was one of the chief arbiters of good manners in modern America. Described in a 1978 Time Magazine profile as a “superbly energetic amalgam of feminist and Tasteful Lady.” Baldrige embarked on a career that took her from diplomatic cirlcles, to the White House and on to a long career advising business executives on the finer points of etiquette and social graces, all starting decades before women talked about “having it all,” and at a time when many of her female colleagues were afforded few professional opportunities. She authored numerous books and articles on etiquette and social graces over her long career. “Discourtesy and arrogance were not requirements for a career of similar accomplishment,” she would later advise executives in her role as a maven of etiquette. Baldrige died in 2012, at the age of 86.

     On Social Etiquette

If you ever find yourself sitting across the dinner table from Jacqueline Onassis or Robert Redford, don’t ask about a job for your n'er-do-well cousin. That’s one of the worst things you can say to a celebrity, says Letitia Baldrige, social secretary at the Kennedy White House, in the new edition of "The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette" (Doubleday). 

Here’s more advice from Baldrige on keeping your foot out of your mouth in such situations: 

  1. Don’t be a critic. Say something nice about the celebrity's latest movie, play, TV appearance or corporation.
  2. If you can say something intelligent about the person’s profession, by all means come out with it.
  3. Discuss the celebrity's outside interests, including charitable activities.
  4. That does not include the person’s outside amatory or pecuniary interests. Never pry into a celebrity's personal life with questions on such subjects as marriage or income. 
  5. If speaking with an actor or actress, suggest a character from a great book that the person could play well. 
  6. Never tell the celebrity that he or she looks much younger and thinner in real life than on stage or screen. ("You will make him think he looks old and fat to the people who see him on camera and on the stage ”) 
  7. Never criticize the person’s colleagues or fellow performers. ("Even if he agrees with you, he will have to come out in their ardent defense.") 
  8. Don’t make the person feel inadequate or unprepared by posing questions on subjects outside his or her areas of expertise. ("If he is a performing artist, don't ask him some intricate question on international foreign affairs... Likewise, one does not ask a Cabinet officer what he thinks of the latest underground movie one may have seen.")– 1978

Etiquette and Manners Have Differences

NEW YORK (AP) Could you differentiate between “etiquette” and “manners”? Letitia Baldrige in her revised book on etiquette says, "Etiquette has to do with when you wear white gloves and how to unfold a napkin on your lap. 

Real manners are being thoughtful toward others and doing nice things for others. “Manners really matter, they stem from kindness. Etiquette can be a bit starchy,” she said. – The Desert Sun, 1981

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia 

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