Mar 31, 2021–I wish to issue an apology to the world on behalf of my generation.
Back when we were rebelling against everything that “people over 30” did, the casualties included dressing up (wearing ties, ugh), and social etiquette.
Thanks to our aversion to too-tight collars, starched white shirts, and foundation garments, the corporate world introduced casual Fridays, which soon became “wear khakis and polo shirts and tennis shoes to work every day.”
Along with the downgrade in apparel came a disregard for basic manners, which, while seeming stultifying in the black and white world we grew up in, played an underappreciated role in the smooth functioning of society.
But take heart. Mindy Wendele is doing something about it through her new enterprise Social Graces.
“You’re exactly right,” said Wendele. “When we went to casual Fridays, that led to dressing casual every day. When I started flying in airplanes, we dressed up. Now you wear pajamas. But we’re slowly getting back to more of a balance.”
To help speed the trend, Wendele is offering Introduction to Etiquette, a series of sessions for middle school and high school age students to provide a foundation of etiquette instruction.
“I think the importance of manners in our everyday life comes down to respect,” she said. “When manners go out the door, we don’t respect ourselves, much less others.”
Some of the confusion stems from the day when opening a door for a lady brought charges of sexism. Wendele helps sort that out.
“I tell my clients it’s all about open communications. Have a conversation about what behavior is expected in those situations. With my husband, I will stand at a door and wait for him to open it. You and I, as colleagues, I wouldn’t expect that. It’s all based on the relationship between two people.”
Wendele is encouraged to see the pendulum begin to swing back to the social graces. To that end, she is offering a series of classes she bills as “fun and functional.”
“We keep it to one-hour sessions for junior high and high school students. We make it fun and interactional. There is lots of role playing, putting them in situations where they are physically interacting.”
Wendele hopes her proteges remember three lessons:
1) Speak to people
“Be kind and say hello. Say ‘good morning’ or ‘how are you today?’ You just made the day for some person that hadn’t been talked to in weeks.”
2) Ask people if you can help them.
“May I open this door for you?”
“May I take your buggy back?”
“May I pick that up for you?”
“It doesn’t have to be indentured servitude. Just 30 seconds. Can I help you do something that makes people feel good about themselves?”
3) Keep mindful of how you talk to people.
“Because of the tech world and social media, we speak in abbreviations. Not all generations do that. It took me forever to say ‘24/7’ instead of ‘24 hours a day, seven days a week.’ That’s a lot of words to say 24/7. We’re still around 18, 19, and 20-year-olds, and sometimes we wonder what are they saying. Kids are talking like they are texting.”
She also teaches kids how to write Thank You notes.
“Gratitude in today’s world is huge. I hand them Thank You notes and envelopes, and we write them together.”
Those don’t seem unreasonable expectations. That is on purpose. Wendele is by no means a martinet in the snooty Miss Manners mold. She loves going through etiquette books written from 100 years ago to some in this decade, and noting the differences in what was considered proper.
“It’s enlightening to see what was, oh my gosh, scandalous!” she said. “What I’m saying is we are in our own time, and we make our own etiquette, manners, and kindness.”
She also makes accommodations for geography. We are, after all, in Texas. Her classes will include all the basics of cotillion, but modified for the Hill Country.
“There is none of the ‘boys have to wear black suits.’ They can, but they can also wear their cowboy boots. The young ladies are going to have to wear their white gloves and dresses, but they don’t necessarily have to have all the taffeta.”
Wendele is not trying to create a cadre of Little Lord Fauntleroys. Her wish is that as the students mature and find themselves in unfamiliar public situations, some of the training will serve them well.
“My desire is that they think back and go, oh, that’s right. Ms Wendele told us how to do this–who opens the door, who dances with whom, and that kind of stuff. I think time will tell.”
The real acid test?
“When I get their Thank You notes. Ah, that is like, my job here is done.”
Social Graces by Mindy Wendele will provide Basic Introduction to Etiquette Classes for children in separate sessions for middle school students beginning on April 5 and for high school students beginning April 20. Classes will meet in the refurbished Arcadia Theater in Kerrville. Details at www.socialgracestx.com.