An elderly lady arrived to stay with us recently, one we’ve known for years and last saw quite some time ago. Before we’d so much as allowed the kettle to boil, sat down and exchanged the usual niceties: “so good to see you”; ” don’t you look well!”; “its been too long!”; “hows the family”. Before the steaming mug of traditional welcoming hot beverage was in our hands came the sentence ” Haven’t you put on weight, you had lost so much on that diet when we last saw you” (coupled with a friendly pat on my love handles and a sympathetic smile as if it was necessary to show concern at my lapse of self-control).
I was thrown, I shouldn’t have been as there are several people of the same generation whose life is generally controlled by etiquette, decorum and social pleasantries, whose manners slip into this common insult in the name of familiarity and concern.
OK, I have put on a bit of weight. i LIKE social drinking and dinner parties; food festivals and wine & nibbles with a movie. I’m a size 14 – not exactly an elephant – but even if I was, what is it with the older generation that prompts this Tourette’s like behaviour born of familiarity?
Anyway , it got be thinking about etiquette and ‘old-fashioned’ good manners. (even that phrase is saddening – why are good manners old-fashioned?). I love a bit of old-fashioned pomp, respect and courtesy. Holding open doors; giving way; pleases and thank you s. A hand written letter of acknowledgement for a gift etc. Recently I was at a local agricultural show and it was lovely to see all the class judges in bowler hats and tweed jackets. It was really something to enjoy a spot of tradition.
I used to have this lovely elderly gentleman visit me in my shop. His name was Chris, and when he visited me he always wore his blazer and medals. Before I knew him I referred to him as ‘Sir’. When we spoke I would always comment on how ‘dapper’ he looked. I generally great an elderly man as ‘Sir’, generally I use it in line with that generation who have reached the point where they are boasting about their age. I still remember feeling old the first time a shop keeping called me Madam instead of Miss – these common courtesies can fall on a minefield of personal insecurities if not handled with care! I was, despite his good manners, devastated at the realisation that I was considered (relatively) old.
I love it when my sons friends greet me or thank me . But that in itself surely suggests it’s no longer the norm. To be thanked for having them or for the meal you’ve cooked, or for the lift – it goes without saying, surely, that a ‘thank you’ is in order.
I would like to think my son will always be thoughtful enough and polite enough to say please and thank you, acknowledge a letter or gift and hold open a door if someone has their hands full. (I hope the same for my husband!) But at what age, as a mother, should I just assume i have instilled the good manners and leave him to make his own choices. Once hes married or living with someone else should I really still phone him to remind him to thank his grandmother for the Christmas present or to not forget his sisters/brothers/uncles birthday/anniversary/graduation?! These are choices and behaviours we all have to take our own responsibility for. And, as a result, the consequences for if we fail to deliver and subsequently offend.
As frustrating as this may be, we raise our children to be independent and in all other things we leave them to do so, so why interfere when it comes to our own take on social etiquette? Only this year I found myself berating John’s older boys for not making some sort of contact with their father on Fathers Day. I was cross with myself immediately after. They are both grown and in relationships. If they choose to not see it as important, not want to do it, that is their choice, not mine. John will decide if he is offended or not and comment, or not, himself. As it was, the offense and etiquette issues were mine. John, I’m pretty sure, wasn’t bothered as that’s not what they do and I am sure both boys girlfriends saw me as an interfering old bag!! Touche – been there done that.
However, there are occasions where you wonder where the cut off should be. On one occasion having received a gift, I wrote a letter of thanks and updated the recipient on the latest goings on in the Crompton/Benton household. A week later I received a very nice letter thanking me for thanking her. For a moment I did consider sending a “thank you for thanking me for thanking you” letter. Too much perhaps?
Anyway, ‘thank you’ all SO much for reading, following and/or commenting on my blog posts. Your input is most appreciated and I hope to hear from you all in the near future.