What Ever Happened to Manners, or Are There Any Ladies Left?

Is it only me, or have manners gone the way of the dinosaurs?

I learned manners and basic social behavior from my mother, my grandmother, my aunts and my special mentor, Miss Gladys Churchill, whom we affectionately called “Churchy.” She was an old lady when I met her, and she made a big impression in my life.

From her and all the strong and wonderful women in my life who influenced my growing up, these are the things that were “manners standards” for what a young girl should aspire to—that is, to be a lady:

Things a Lady Never Does:

  • “root” in her purse like a pig snuffling out truffles
  • swear or pick her nose in public
  • leave the house without underwear
  • speak in a loud or “common” voice
  • sit with legs open or one leg slung carelessly over the other, joggling the foot
  • wear excessive makeup
  • slouch
  • tell family secrets outside the home
  • get drunk in public (I’m guessing that being drunk at home was ok)
  • gossip
  • chew food with the mouth open
  • scratch oneself like a monkey in public
  • yawn without covering the mouth
  • wink at men
  • burp or fart in public
  • get caught in a lie
  • bray like a donkey when laughing
  • make a fool of oneself
  • chew gum in public like a cow chewing cud

Things a Lady Does:

  • sit with legs demurely crossed at the ankle and with the back straight
  • speak politely and clearly
  • acknowledge people with a polite ‘hello, how are you?’
  • ask after a person’s family
  • be polite at all costs
  • cover the mouth when yawning
  • overlook another person’s mistakes or *faux pas
  • resist any urge to swear, scratch, burp, fart, or have that one more glass of wine
  • ignore a flirtation (especially with a married man)
  • smile without showing too many teeth
  • tug at her underwear
  • never get caught in a ‘**compromising position’

If this sounds too Downton Abbey-ish, well–that’s how things were when I was growing up. Although some of these things seem impossibly fuddy-duddy-ish now, they existed so that everyone would feel comfortable and know what to expect of themselves and everyone else. These social graces and pleasantries kept everyone in a familiar atmosphere and on a level playing field.

These days, you never know what you’re going to hear and see on the street, in someone’s house, on TV or at work. It’s almost like living in a permanent Jerry Springer show–people spit, swear, urinate and fornicate in public, shoot people, crash their vehicles into homes and offices, go on rampages just for the hell of it, steal, lie, cheat, and so on. And when they’re caught and called out, are they sorry? No! They blame it all on someone else, or they have some sort of excuse for what they did–a nutritional disorder, or they are off their meds, or their daddy beat them when they were little–it’s never their fault.

I lived through the 60s and 70s when most of our social order went to hell. Oh, I didn’t burn my bra or attend any sit-ins or love-ins, nor did I attend Woodstock. (I was invited to go to it, but outside of the fabulous musical talent, I had no interest in sleeping on the ground, using a Port-O-San, or going without clean clothes, thank you very much.) Just about everything I had learned as a child turned upside down in those days, but I never forgot my lessons from the great women in my life.

At that time, ladies were ladies, a good reputation was vital, and everyone moreorless understood basic manners and pleasantries. I’m not saying that those days should or would come back, but at that time it was familiar and comfortable.

Oh, Churchy–what in the world would you think of things today?

*embarrassing social mistake, such as spilling a glass of wine or peeing on the floor
**be alone in a room with the door closed with a man, single or married, etc.

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