Monday, January 31, 2011

Do Judge! But Cafefully

You would be surprised at how often people have wonderful manners when that is what you expect and how rarely people do things that force you to conclude they are not polite.

A lot of people are simply polite, that creates a wonderful base. Then there are people who treat others as they are treated or who look to others for clues on how to behave, this group really can shine when treated well. These people are lovely and I choose to spend time with them because they treat me with respect when they are treated with respect.

There is another group that behaves beautifully but simply have a different set of etiquette expectations then I do, manners are culturally dependent. These people are also ladies and gentlemen because they are treating me respectfully but they have a different playbook. If we are going to spend time together we will enjoy each other a lot more if we address this issue and agree to explain anything that seems confusing, otherwise we might unintentionally create hurt feelings. This is the hypothesis I try first when I am treated in a manner that does not feel respectful. I like to ask them to explain why they did the confusing thing, if you ask a question like this be delicate, manners are a touchy subject. Something like “I notice you don’t seem to look people in the eye and I was wondering if there is a reason or if it just makes you uncomfortable” will often work well if someone just has a cultural difference.

There are those who do not know what to do, these people mean well but fumble through ignorance. They are still ladies and gentlemen, they just don’t know how to behave. Because they mean well these people can often make excellent friends. But you can’t correct their manners! Ladies do not tell anyone ,except for children that they are responsible for, how to behave. What you can do, if you really think someone means well but doesn't understand, is to make a respectful request. For example, a lady may not say "a gentleman would open the door for me when I have boxes". A lady may say "could you get the door? my hands are full". If someone does not know how to behave you simply take omissions in courtesy lightly. If the pleasure of their company does not overcome this flaw, distancing yourself is perfectly acceptable.

You are entitled to be treated by a lady, but a lady does not expect people to change for her sake. A lady takes people as they are and then decides how much contact she wishes to have with them based on how pleasant she finds their company. Polite people are often quite pleasant so a lady must often be choosy.

There is a group that is fortunately quite rare. These are people who are rude out of malice or because they personally dislike you. It sounds quite hard, but you must not take things these people say personally. If someone is acting to hurt you they are telling you they don't want to be a part of your life and not longer wish to enjoy your company. This could be direct rudeness (off-color remarks, crudeness, and the like) but it can also be hidden rudeness where someone is perfectly lovely to you but treats others with a lack of kindness, or perhaps gossips to you. Sometimes we can all be a little snide, but a person who is regularly full of everyone else's faults is not someone you want as a friend, I assure you that they are busy cataloging yours too.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Not Your Business

One of the most important thing a lady does is respect another person privacy. There are some things that are just to personal to ask. The list will vary depending upon the degree of emotional intmacy invovled in your realtionship, but here is a non-exaustive list of things one does not talk to mere aquantaces about
Your Health in any detail
You romantic life
Anything that might be considered drama

What does that leave you with? Quite a lot! You can talk about anything you have read new stories (without political commentary), pleasant news about people you both know, food you have enjoyed and all sort of lovely things.

This is not to say that one never talks about these things, you can do so when it is in context, for example at a doctor’s appointment to a nurse, or when you are deliberately breaching an emotional subject as a way to create intimacy. If you do breach such a subject be sure to give the other person a graceful way out. Pressuring people in to defending their boundaries and not giving them a graceful way to reject intimacy is not a kind thing to do. Of course others might choose to bring delicate subjects up.

Personal revelations are a way to build emotional intimacy and should be treated as the privilege they are and not forced. If you are known for your discretion you might find that people want to confide in you, that is lovely and you should be as gracious as possible about people wanting to share. All the same remember that listening is itself an intimacy and you need never agree to an intimacy to be polite, a simple “I am afraid I am uncomfortable, can we talk about something else” is just fine.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Intimacy is Not Instant

Once upon a time people did not call people by their first names without being invited to do so. This lead to a charming moment where one could signal that you wanted to be more then acquaintances with someone by saying, “Do call me Sophia”.

I suppose the modern equivalent of that moment for most of us is sending a friend request to someone on Facebook.

I want you to think about that moment, where you ask an acquaintance to become a friend. I think it is pretty special. And that moment when they accept just feels wonderful doesn’t it? You have both agreed to a relationship that involves a little more disclosure and a little more emotional intimacy.

But in order to have these wonderful moments you must acknowledge that the whole world is not your friend. I know that modern society wants us to think differently, I am sure you have heard someone say “My name is LongerName but my friends call me NickName” to someone they have just met with the presumption that the person will call them by their nickname and be their friend.

It seems we have problems with the idea that not everyone is our friend. This doesn’t mean the world is not full of really lovely people with whom we could probably be friends, it is.* But friendship is something that requires some time and focus and we can’t give that to everyone.

Friendship is a commitment. Not a big one, but a commitment. It isn’t something you can give everyone, because it should mean something when offered.

*See A Lady is Surrounded by Ladies and Gentlemen

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Lady is Surrounded By Ladies and Gentlemen

Everyone I meet is a lady or a gentleman.* I treat them accordingly.

At lunch I am seated by a Lady, I thank her for her services. A gentleman comes by and asks me what I would like to drink. I tell him that a glass of water would be lovely right now and thank him when he brings me one. I am joined by people I know. I smile, greet them my name and tell them that I appreciate them spending this lunch time with me. There is conversation and I enjoy it and look for opportunities to bring up my companions achievements and to encourage them to talk about things that I know they are particularly well informed, insightful or witty about. At then end of the meal I thank my companions for their time and tell them that I enjoyed our time together. We might make plans to do it again. I also thank my server, yes I do it with a tip, but also with a smile and a thank you so much, and because this was a really lovely meal I add, I enjoyed my lunch very much, my complements to the chef.

You have probably heard some version of do onto others as you would have them do unto you. The problem is that you know yourself quite well (I hope!) and you do not always know others very well. The way around this is to think about how you like to be treated by people who have limited information about you. If you were a hostess, you could handle it if someone was abrupt snapped at you about wanting a booth instead of a table, but wouldn't you feel more respected if someone said "I know you have to work with what you have and give every server a fair chance, but if it is not too much trouble could you arrange for a booth? I find them much more comfortable". Isn't that a better way to treat a lady?

Asking nicely will is a great place to start, but taking a moment to imagine yourself in someones role, acknowledging the limitations they work within and expertise and then asking if they can accommodate your preference often gets really excellent results. You probably really like it when someone recognizes what you do, others do as well.

As you get to know people better you can get better at giving people a pleasant experience, and in doing so you usually improve your own experience. For example the lunchtime conversation, by saying things like “Susan just got back from a trip to Japan, Susan. She was telling me about ancestor worship and that reminded me of what you were talking about with Ancient Romans having household gods” I have set up a conversation between people where each can shine and I can hear about interesting things.

By treating people well, taking a moment to recognize the difficulties of a busy hostess for example, I often find that they then treat me really well in return, for example they might recommend something that they really love from the menu. There is some evidence that good manners can be contagious like that. I do know that they make my world a far more pleasant place to live.

*Unless they prove otherwise, for more on this see Do Judge! (Carefully and Kindly)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Being A Lady is about Behaving Yourself

The chances are very good that no one has every really sat down with you and talked about how to behave in social situations. There might have been a few short discussions when you were very small , but most of us cobble something together out of asides and by noting what gets others mocked.

This seems innocent enough, but chances are that it has lead you to conclude that proper behavior in a social situation is doing what other people would approve of. You might also have had people tell you things to that effect, such as “being polite is just about making other people feel comfortable.” This is nonsense!

Many lovely girls have been lead to dark places in the name of “getting along” or “making other people feel comfortable.” They know that this is not what they want to do but they don’t want to make a fuss or be rude. In not teaching you how you should behave you feel like the only thing to do is whatever random nonsense people seem to expect.

I am here to help you fix all of that by explaining how to be a lady. I cannot make you a lady, that - my dear - is entirely up to you. What I can to is give you as much information as possible so that if you do want to be a lady you will have the ability.

While it was originally a noble title and is still used in that sense, that is not the kind of lady I am, nor is it the sort of thing I can offer assistance with.

I am a lady in the sense of being an adult woman who knows how to behave herself. I assure you it gets me far further, and much more romance, than any title ever could.

So let me explain what I mean by behaving myself. It means that I look to my carefully developed internal standards as a reference for how to behave. It does not mean that I do not consider the people I am with*. It does mean that I do not base my behavior on what will make them think well of me, I base it on what will make me think well of myself.

I put this letter first because this is by far the most important thing I can think to say to you. In any situation do not do things that will undermine your self respect. At the end of the day, and when the party is over, the person whose opinion about you matters the most is you.

And that, to me, is what makes a lady a lady. A solid sense of self respect gives you the sort of nobility that has nothing to do with birth and everything to do with class.

*A person who is too formal for the setting is being condescending, a person who is too informal for the setting is being coarse. It does not matter if your manners are otherwise perfect, matching them to the event is just as important as having manners in the first place.