A Lesson in Etiquette
November 2023 Issue
by Elizabeth Thompson
The South is known for its friendliness and hospitality. Etiquette lessons are taught at a very early age and continue through young adulthood, typically by the matriarchs of the family or even more formal finishing schools or programs. Southerners value faith, family, and community above all else. Gentility, hospitality, courtesy, and good manners are central to a Southerner’s identity and mainstays of the traditional culture. Good etiquette promotes kindness, consideration, and humility. It also makes people feel welcome and comfortable.
Southerners maintain a reputation for not tolerating poor behavior from others, especially children, therefore, when living in the South, good manners are a must. Here are some easy, everyday etiquette rules that make the world a little more pleasant:
• Say “Please”, “Thank you”, “May I”, “Excuse me”, and “You’re welcome”. These simple expressions of gratitude and humility can be taught as soon as children learn to talk.
• Speak kindly, politely, and avoid destructive gossip. Cultivate a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others around you.
• Show respect and grace to others. A few examples would be:
> Hold the door for others behind you.
> Be patient and wait your turn.
> Stand when elders or ladies enter the room or are being seated.
> Teach children to say “Sir” or Ma’am”. It is a sign of respect and is the foundation for other character traits like tolerance, selflessness, giving, and compassion.
> Smile at strangers and embrace small friendly interactions. Everyone is a friend we haven’t met yet. Again, it’s all about respect and acknowledging others around you.
• Be polite at the table. Use good manners and make pleasant conversation. Dinner conversation should be easy, light, inclusive of everyone, and, of course, no cell phones at the table. If you must take an important call, be sure to let everyone know ahead of time and excuse yourself when the call comes in.
• Be a gracious host: Always offer a beverage and a seat to visitors. Make others feel welcome.
• Be a good guest:
> RSVP promptly and completely so the host can move forward with their planning.
> Bring a small hostess gift.
> Punctuality—arriving early to a social engagement disrupts the host and interrupts the opportunity for critical last-minute preparations. Plan to arrive within fifteen minutes after the start time of the function, unless, of course, it is a wedding or other ceremony where you would disrupt the proceedings.
> Write and mail a handwritten thank you note promptly after the event.
• The importance of a handwritten thank you note cannot be overstated. A handwritten thank you note is an act of love and a way to honor someone who has spent their precious money or time on you.
• Making a proper introduction is a timeless, lifelong skill. Always greet people with a warm smile and a firm handshake. Introduce elders and ladies first. The exception would be in a business setting, where it is appropriate to introduce the person of higher status first.
• Always offer to help in any situation when you can.
• Tidy up after yourself.
• Finally, no modern-day discussion of proper social skills would be complete without addressing cell phone etiquette. Generally speaking,
> Always put your phone away when you’re spending time with loved ones or colleagues.
> Put your phone away when checking out at a store, or when you are speaking to someone who works at a business you’re visiting. If you must be on the phone, excuse yourself and go outside to conduct your conversation.
> Be considerate of others around you. Never play your personal music, videos, podcasts etc. out loud in public places. Not everyone shares the same taste.
> Be respectful of others when taking pictures and videos of people, especially if you plan to post them on social media. It’s good practice to ask permission before posting pictures of others on social media sites, especially those of children. The same rule applies to tagging. It’s best to ask first.
Elizabeth Thompson is a Social Etiquette Consultant and the founder of “Common Courtesies”, a modern-day finishing school for young adults and children located in Hilton Head Island. She is currently working on a book entitled The Heartbeat of Dixie.