Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins
Down here, we call it “hometraining.” You know — manners, comportment, etiquette, social graces.
I know you all are saying, “Manners schmanners. I can remember which fork to use, please and thank you, ma’am and sir, and all that.” But hometraining is so much more than knowing the difference between a shrimp fork and a pickle fork or when to wear a dinner jacket.
Hometraining teaches one how to put all who are fortunate enough to be in your company at immediate ease. Hometraining allows one be gracious during difficult times, convivial when the occasion is celebratory, and savvy enough to know the difference. Hometraining prevents one from hollering, “Awkward!” when the situation is indeed so. Hometraining teaches one to use “one” as a pronoun.
And while it can be learned, should be learned, there are a certain few who sail through polite society with such poise and finesse that they have turned hometraining into societal artistry.
You’ve seen it — her. She glides into a room, and it seems as though every eye swivels around to fix on her. Everything matches, every hair is in place, and she always knows the exact right thing to say at the exact right time. She can discuss the latest fashion or international affairs or the world record bass with equal aplomb. Her mama obviously devoted many an hour to her social development, but she also has that certain je ne sais quoi that just can’t be taught.
You’ve also heard it — them. “Bless her heart. She just has no hometraining.” It is an effort for the Southern lady to justify how someone can forget to send a thank-you note, not be able to balance a punch cup and a cake plate, neglect to make proper introductions, or say something coarse such as, “D’ya mind if I cop a squat?” There has to be, there must be, some reason to fall so far off the wagon of nicety. No one would consciously act so common, would they?
Why certainly not! It must be that she simply was never taught. Surely if she only knew better …
Or if he … Gentlemen, hometraining is not just for the ladies. You must have it, too. Forget those nouveau feminist protestations and open that door, help her with her coat, pull out her chair, walk on the street side, and guide and protect her with a touch to her back or elbow. For Pete’s sake, carry a hanky.
Please don’t attack your plate as if your food may escape back off into the wilderness. Refrain from indelicate scratching and adjusting. Try not to spit too much. Steer the conversation away from money, politics, or religion. Don’t wear flip-flops with your dress pants. Learn a clean joke and how to tell it. Don’t fight unless you have to.
My friends, hometraining consists of many, many things — some superficial, some not. Some things come naturally; some we must work really, really hard on. But all of these admonitions are born from a common, inordinately important principle best stated by Mrs. Emily Post, who may not be a born Southerner but who gets right down to where the goats eat when it comes to etiquette. Take her words to heart.
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”