Say the word "etiquette" and the image in some minds is of women and men in formal attire, peering down their noses as they chat about stocks, the fine arts, and elite schools through pursed lips while grazing on brioche, pate, prosciutto, wild boar, caviar, petit fours, and such.
But etiquette is not just for fine dining or dignitaries. Whether the occasion involves eating hamburgers or salmon, sipping soda or wine, wearing jeans or organza, good manners should be for everyone all the time.
"I think people forget that etiquette is something we need to practice 24/7," said Sandy Hyde, whose Etiquette School of Ohio is in Beavercreek outside Dayton.
Etiquette helps to build and maintain relationships and keep society civil, she said.
"It is not to be reserved for a special event, but we need to practice it on the road, in the hallways at work, shopping, as well as when we come home [and interact] with family members," said Mrs. Hyde, who was Mrs. Ohio USA in 1992.
It seems, though, that younger generations are proud of their surliness while older generations are repulsed by their lack of manners.
The downward spiral from courteousness wasn’t sudden.
"The whole tirade of ‘free to be me,’" coupled with the deterioration of civility, began in the 1960s when a tsunami of changes affected families, the workforce, and society, Peggy Newfield said from her Atlanta office. She is president and founder of the American School of Protocol, the training arm of Personal Best, Inc.
From the 1990s to now, Denise Cardwell of Toledo has noticed an absence of good manners in young people.
Mrs. Cardwell, who teaches etiquette to young women and men in the Cotillion, which is sponsored by the Toledo club of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women, was startled by the lack of decorum she observed in some young women when she joined the organization a few years ago.
"I was taken aback by some of the changes that had taken place since my daughters were in the Cotillion," said Mrs. Cardwell, a self-taught etiquette instructor who also teaches etiquette to adults and children. For the last 15 years, various local organizations have called upon her to teach etiquette to members of their groups. "The girls just needed some polishing."
Technology has escalated the departure from manners.
"We can communicate around the world by looking at a screen," said Ms. Newfield, who also teaches etiquette instructors. Mrs. Hyde was certified at the Atlanta school.
Many who e-mail and text forgo correct spelling and proper grammar, then take that faltering communication into other areas. As a result, fewer people readily make eye contact or ean easily hold a conversation with someone in person.
Mrs. Cardwell, Mrs. Hyde, and Ms. Newfield are trying to stem the spread of boorishness. Though Mrs. Hyde and Ms. Newfield teach etiquette in the corporate setting, each of the three instructors focuses on young people and children, reinforcing what parents teach at home and exposing them to new experiences.
Mrs. Hyde said that because parents work longer hours at demanding jobs, they have less time to reinforce good manners. In that case, etiquette classes help. "Parents must realize that their children always emulate them," Ms. Newfield said.
Thoughtful parents demonstrate proper behavior as the norm. Parents who are rude also convey that to their children as the norm. Unfortunately, Ms. Newfield said, parents who are less gracious don’t realize the effect they have on their children until they are adults.
Etiquette teachers underscore the importance of children learning to shake an adult’s hand and to make eye contact, Ms. Newfield said.
Casual greetings from young people have no place in a civil world, Mrs. Cardwell said, adding that some youngsters don’t know how to properly greet a person.
"The word is ‘hello,’ not ‘hi.’ The word is ‘yes,’ not ‘yeah,’ " she said.
It’s unfortunate when parents refuse to take their children out to dinner or social affairs because the youngsters don’t know how to behave. But they have to learn, the etiquette experts say.
Mrs. Hyde said that among her programs for children are six-and-a-half hours of hands-on instruction in formal dining. Training for a five-course meal takes place in one-hour settings.
Mrs. Cardwell teaches youngsters in the odd grades through the ninth grade about dining etiquette in her home or other venues. During the holiday season, her students are challenged to set the family holiday table. After a series of classes, with anywhere from six to 15 students, she presents her young charges with a complete table setting.
Mrs. Hyde also offers basic dining instruction for high school and college students, helping them to prepare for job interviews and for overall self-presentation.
These etiquette instructors say that no special requirements are necessary to display good manners, and that it is not only for the upper class.
Mrs. Cardwell puts it this way: Etiquette is not about economics, ethnicity, or education.
"It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, you don’t need a college degree," she said.
What’s certain, she said, is that "Once you learn it, I guarantee you will never forget it."
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