In which our Heroine avails herself of the Soapbox.
Good Day to All of You,
I recently finished reading Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt. It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but it did get me thinking about the importance of rules of etiquette, politeness, and hospitality in our society. Set first in Ohio, then in Savannah, Georgia, the author compares southern manners to the northern several times. The contrast was striking. At one point, I found myself thinking about a Greek mythology class I took at BYU. We’d been studying Odysseus, and the professor spent days talking about the importance of hospitality and the guest/host relationship in the text. Oddly enough, I remember that many of the other students had trouble understanding this obscure idea. I didn’t get it either until I remembered my mother’s habit of cleaning the house from top to bottom and carefully laying out sheets on all the extra beds when guests were coming—even if only for my older brothers as they visited. Of course, I was turned out of the comfortable warmth of my bed every time. Before I was very old, I knew what to expect when guests came calling: a preparatory flurry of activity added to some seriously inconvenient sacrifices on my part.
Of course, sleeping on the couch back then was less than ideal, but the rest of the visit was more than worth it. While my mother was busy putting our lives on hold, the meals were delicious and filled with fun conversation. The real perk today is that I finally get the coveted guest treatment when I visit home now. There is nothing better than finding my mother’s newest and fluffiest towels, complete with washcloth, artfully arranged on the bathroom counter in the morning. It always makes me feel so special to be treated with such care and enthusiastic love—not that she doesn’t expect me to cook a meal or two and help with the dishes, which is of course my way of being a good guest.
Not to be a stickler for the rules, but I do appreciate it when others treat me with respect and courteously—and I’m sure they appreciate the same from me. I had an experience recently where another person assumed that I had nothing better to do with my afternoon than wait around for them. I felt as if they didn’t respect me as I’d made sure to explain that I only had a few hours available. It is really needless to say that I lost my patience quickly and the experience stood in stark contrast to the little politeness’s that, according to a paperback book, apparently happen all the time in Savannah, Georgia.
I worry that our society is losing its ability to recognize polite custom. In our haste to make things more efficient and productive, we are losing the niceties about us. We no longer know many of our neighbors. We show up late to events, and cancel an appointment at a moment’s notice without good reason. RSVP’s are a thing of the past. I see—no, I feel an increasing burden on the host when no one lets you know whether they’ll actually show up or offer to help with a side-dish or with cleaning up afterward. I realize things happen to disrupt the perfection of a gathering sometimes. For instance, in the before-mentioned book, a wonderfully extravagant party is planned at the end where two neighbors break into a very un-lady-like scuffle and end up breaking a platter that had been in the host’s family for years. The host was “white about the lips,” but graciously approached the ladies and suggested that they go on home and clean up before coming back. An impressive degree of patience and charity, yes?
Not that I’m the best example of good manners. I have done all the previously mentioned impoliteness’s. That’s why I know about them. But the one thing that the book did show well was that those who followed the rules of etiquette were usually those characters that respected others and were capable of the greatest kindnesses. I’d like to be more like that. Too bad that being polite often means keeping your mouth shut about things that bug you.