15 Good Manners

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Add Charm to the Equation

Charm School

The MIT students were stumped, or as stumped as a group of young adults with SAT scores dwarfing the average mortgage payment could be when faced with the question: Is it ever acceptable to dunk?

Quiet settled over the roomful of round tables, where not a backward cap, gum-chomping jaw nor buzzing, bleeping or chirping cellphone was to be seen. A young woman’s voice emerged from the back with the answer that etiquette expert Dawn Bryan was hoping to hear:

“Basically, you don’t dunk unless it’s biscotti.”

If you read this while dunking a jelly doughnut into your coffee during breakfast with the boss, well, Charm School is for you, assuming you’re enough of a brainiac to get into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to take part in its annual paean to politesse.

Now in its 23rd year, the event is voluntary, but to its students and instructors, Charm School may be as beneficial to their future as an A in astrodynamics.

That’s especially true in this economy, said Alana Hamlett of MIT’s Student Activities and Leadership Office, who oversees the gathering.

“We’re giving our students the tools to be productive members of society, to be the whole package,” Hamlett said. “It gets them thinking about who they are and what their impact and effect is, whether they’re working on a team in an engineering company, or in a small group on a project, or interviewing for a job.”

MIT isn’t the only science-focused institution to veer into the world of etiquette. Caltech offers Manners 101, “in preparation for the post-Caltech world of business receptions and dinner parties,” according to the course description. The several-hour non-credit class, offered a few times each year, runs students through a multi-course meal with a business etiquette consultant.

“We’ll serve up some challenging food to eat — shellfish in the shell, really long pasta, Cornish game hen, you name it,” said course instructor Tom Mannion, Caltech’s director for student activities. Mannion also leads classes on food and wine pairing, and on cooking, which use students’ interest in chemistry and other physical sciences to open their eyes to etiquette issues.

“If you know the basics of wine and food, you’re going to be set for life,” said Mannion, whose cooking students receive credit and each year produce a dinner for physicist Stephen Hawking.

It’s not as if these MIT and Caltech students are ill-mannered oafs. But the world in which they have grown up is far different from those of previous generations, where table manners were taught at nightly sit-down family dinners, where texting, Facebooking and tweeting didn’t exist, where graduates were not as likely to encounter colleagues from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

How does an observant Muslim navigate a business breakfast during the fasting month of Ramadan, for example? (Politely explain why you won’t be eating but don’t give a lecture on religion, skip the meeting or demand it be rescheduled.) Should a male employee hold the door for his female boss? (If you get to the door first, sure, and do it for your male colleagues as well — it’s polite.) What to do if you’re expecting an important call but don’t want to keep the cellphone out during lunch with the boss? (If it’s really that important, explain that you’re expecting a crucial call, put the ringer on silent, and if the phone lights up during the meal, excuse yourself to answer it.)

In addition, Mannion noted, the study habits and interests that get someone into a school like Caltech or MIT tend to isolate them in youth from the usual social outlets. Hours spent in the lab don’t prepare you for attending a formal dance or meeting the girlfriend’s parents at a fancy restaurant with multiple utensils, glasses and finger bowls.

MIT’s Charm School started in 1993 as a series of 20-minute sessions held over a four-hour period one day each winter term. It has evolved to meet the etiquette issues of the 21st century, and this year it began with the formal sit-down dinner course led by Bryan and ended with dozens of Doctorates of Charm being handed out to students like Jaclyn Belleville of Los Angeles, who learned among other things that she should not wear open-toed shoes to a job interview. Not even in California.

“It’s nice to have the opportunity to learn this stuff and to have it explained, instead of just stumbling across these issues,” Belleville said as she and dozens of other students admired their certificates while munching from a table laden with brownies, cookies and cakes.

Asa Adadey, a graduate student in computational biology from Silver Spring, Md., admitted that the free sit-down dinner was part of Charm School’s appeal.

“But I think things like this can’t hurt,” said Adadey, who among other things learned not to cut his meat into lots of little pieces before eating it. “Who knows? Down the line I may find myself at a formal dinner.”

Piece by Tina Susman and sourced here: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/05/nation/la-na-charm-school-20130305

Modern Table Manners Etiquette by Chole Malle


In 1948, Millicent Fenwick wrote the Vogue’s Book of Etiquette, intended to declare the mores and manners for a modern age—ladies no longer needed to leave a ladylike amount of food on their plates at the end of a meal, for instance, or how to mix your different china collections. Sixty-seven years later, there are many new etiquette queries to be addressed, and in Millicent’s absence, we will happily take on the task. The vast unknown of smartphone manners alone could fill an additional volume. Are mealtime selfies acceptable? What about photos of your food? Should your phone have a place on the table next to your knife and fork? In this age of equality, who pays? Over a delicious lunch with my impeccably mannered friend and colleague, Mark Guiducci, at the fabulous new Polo Bar, we discussed a few of the nuances of modern etiquette
Millicent’s 23 Rules for Table Manners:

1. Napkins belong on the lap.

2. The back should be straight without rigidity.

3. About elbows, which should be anchored to the table or the ribs, but always down near the sides.

4. Use your soup spoon in a motion away from the table edge.

5. Leave soup spoon in soup plate when done, but never in a soup cup.

6. Always drink something served in a cup from the cup itself (do not drink coffee from a spoon after stirring it).

7. The little finger should never be crooked.

8. Food should be kept in the center of the plate away from the flat rim.

9. Do not push around or mess up your food.

10. Only one thing cut at a time, no layering.

11. Two bites should never be taken from the same forkful.

12. About where to leave utensils mid-meal

13. And after a meal

14. The mouth should be wiped before drinking to keep the edge of the glass attractively clean.

15. Always break bread into pieces before buttering.

16. Sauces should not be sopped up with bread, nor should bread be dipped into coffee. . . Though “Sopping up sauces or gravy with a piece of bread is standard practice in the good, hearty eating ways of middle-class Continental Europe; here, it is regarded as a little eccentric but flattering to the hostess.”

17. Salad should not be cut with a knife.

18. Anything that must be taken from the mouth and put back on a plate is dealt with according to a very simple rule: If it went in on a spoon, it comes out on a spoon (follows for hands, forks, etc.).

19. Never dip one utensil used for one reason (jam) into the vessel of another (butter).

20. Condiments go on the plate before the food.

21. Same goes for food served from a platter.

22. Soup, oysters, or any food already portioned should never be refused.

23. Fingers should never be used to push food onto the fork.


What Is Your House Personality?

Find out whether you’re naturally wired for a quiet existence in the burbs, an extravagant life in the city, or somewhere in between—and see if your home personality is a match with your significant other or soon-to-be roommate by taking this quiz: http://quiz.trulia.com


Rules of Complaining


There is a big difference between standing up for yourself and being a bore, but the line that divides the two is dangerously thin.

Some things you can complain about:

1-Cold food that should be warm
2-Warm wine that should be cold
3-Natural disasters
4-The music being too loud in a restaurant
5-Compulsive tweeting on a date


Complaining should only ever be used to get results, not to vent your anger and frustration.


It isn’t impolite to complain, since it’s important that you stand up for yourself-as long as you are complaining about the right things, to the right people, in the right way. Do not complain about things that cannot be solved; do not complain if you do not get exactly what you want right now; do not complain about things that were your own fault; do not complain to someone angrily about something that is not their fault.

If you must complain, do it with humor and understanding.

Excerpted from a longer piece by Gavanndra Hodge: The Rules of Complaining, Tatler Magazine, November 2014


Hostess Gift


Interior designer Bunny Williams talks about what is a good hostess gift: “For years, I’ve been picking up inexpensive vintage vases at a yard sale or flea market for 5 or 6 bucks, and then filling them with flowers or greens and giving it to the host. But I also want to say that you don’t have to bring a gift every time you go to someone’s house. I don’t know where that came from. I don’t expect it from good friends who I see fairly regularly. Their company is more than enough.”

I’ve given everything from flowers, to seeds, homemade granola, a found feather or a bottle of fresh squeezed orange juice!

When it’s called for, what are hostess gifts you like to give?
Source/s: Los Angeles Times
Home & Design by Leslie Van Buskirk 10/11/2014

Elevator Etiquette

elevator-2Manners expert Lizzie Post on how to behave between floors when:

A fight breaks out: stand as far back against the wall as you can and try not to get involved. Shuffle around the action and shield yourself if you have to.

A fellow elevator rider is visibly intoxicated: Try and get off the elevator as soon as possible by choosing the button for a floor close to where you are. If they try to engage you, just give a nod or ignore them.

You get a phone call: This is the Golden Rule. Don’t talk on your cell phone in the elevator.

Good Manners Cost Nothing


Having good manners is the base for treating others with respect and kindness. In today’s society, where we have so many opportunities to interact with people in a variety of ways, being civil has never been more important.

Doesn’t it annoy you when someone talks loud on their cell phone?!
LOLA would love to know which good manners are important to you.
(To comment, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page)


Do RSVP to all invitations you receive and as soon as you possibly can. Whether it’s a small dinner or a big party, whoever is organizing it needs to know how many people are coming, so they can make sure there is enough food and wine to go around.


The art of being the Perfect Houseguest


  • Bring a gift expresses your gratitude in a tangible way. A lovely candle, tea, a great book or fresh flowers are always welcome.
  • Help out with meals from offering to help with the prep, clearing up after or if you are staying longer than 2 days, a trip to the grocery store to stock up on whatnot.
  • Be considerate by being quiet late at night or/and early in the morning; keep the bathroom clean (especially the tub after use) and tidy up after yourself wherever you are in the house (don’t leave books, newspapers, charger cords, personal items lying around).
  • And when you get back home, always write your host or hostess a Thank You Letter by hand and on nice writing paper.P1010430

Inspired by “The Houseguest’s Handbook” by Julie Pointer in Kinfolk

Good Conversation tips from Miss Debrett’s Blog

Good conversation is the perfect balance between talking and listening. A person who talks too much will kill conversation stone dead. People who are talked at very soon lose the will to continue. They feel harangued, battered, beleaguered. Even if they are being treated to an interesting, and informed, monologue, that’s not the deal. They’re expecting a conversation, not a lecture.

Listening is obviously vital when attempting to have a two-way conversation. But don’t go overboard – if you’re too expectantly silent, the person you’re with may feel a panicky sense that they’re expected to jump through the conversational hoops to keep you interested. An over-zealous listener can all too easily turn a companion into an irrepressible chatterbox…

A good conversationalist will listen carefully, pick up threads and refer back to previous comments to create a multi-layered conversation and a sense of intimacy.

In social situations, when you are meeting strangers, it is important to get the conversation off to a good start. Try to think of an alternative to the usual ‘how are you’ or ‘what do you do?’. Gentle humour, shared observation, flattery and the occasional well-placed compliment all oil the wheels of conversation.

Ask questions, but don’t conduct an aggressive interview – there is a fine line between interest and intrusion. Nobody wants to be subjected to the inquisition when they’re meant to be enjoying themselves.

Familiarity comes with time, so be aware of unspoken barriers. Avoid strong opinion or stark honesty; an occasional frisson is interesting, but controversial views may offend, and amongst comparative strangers there is always the risk of a tactless blunder.

 Never talk about money, illness or death. Bluffers and serial liars always get their comeuppance; name-droppers and braggers bore everyone.

Miss Debrett’s Top Tips
  • A good conversationalist will strike the perfect balance between talking and listening.
  • Ask questions, but don’t conduct an aggressive interview; there’s a fine line between interest and intrusion.
  • Remember, controversial views may offend comparative strangers, so avoid strong opinions or stark honesty.

Useful tip from Miss Debrett’s BlogGood Manners – Drunkenness

At the beginning of the evening, drink is the ally of social confidence; at the end of the night, it is the enemy of social manners. One minute, drinking is making you feel on top of the world, bringing a flush of excitement to your cheeks, and lending wings to your wit; the next, you’ve fallen over on your face, that flush has mottled and the amusement has stalled mid-air.

Drunkenness is not infectious; if you are drunk, you cannot rely on the discreet intoxication of those around you, and the true drunk will inevitably be regarded as a social pariah. Drink makes fools of us all, plunging us from an agreeable state of intoxicated merriment and social bonhomie into maudlin introspection, verbal (and occasionally physical) aggression, or neediness and over-emotionalism.

We all know that moderation is the mother of good sense, that we should be happy enough with our one or two glasses of wine. Overindulgence is socially unattractive, but complete abstinence can sometimes seem antisocial and holier-than-thou.

The good news is that drinking-without-drunkenness is possible: eat well, alternate alcoholic drinks with sneaky glasses of water, never get drunker than your love interest and know your limits – the graceful drunk is always thinking beyond their immediate environment, alert to the warning signs of impending intoxication, and ready to go home before an enjoyable evening ends in tears.

If you are handling a drunk who has failed to take this path, proceed with caution. It’s too late, and merely provoking, to forbid a drunk another drink: the most important thing is to stop them driving home, so call them a cab and give them their promised tipple while they’re waiting. Don’t bother berating them while they’re still intoxicated – they won’t remember it in the morning – but it’s up to your conscience whether you resist the temptation to torment them with tales of their tipsiness in the morning.

Miss Debrett’s Top Tips
  • If you are drunk do not rely on the discreet intoxication of those around you. You may well be on your own.
  • Remember that while overindulgence is socially unattractive, complete abstinence can sometimes seem antisocial and holier-than-thou.
  • Be an alert drunk, aware of impending signs of intoxication and ready to go home before the evening crashes around your head.
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