I know that I am not Miss Manners–there are many ways in which I offend or miss the mark when it comes to proper etiquette. I do try to do the basics, though: say please and thank you, write thank you notes for gifts and favors, and make my children write thank you notes when they are likewise blessed. We teach our children how to properly use a fork and knife, and the girls even get to go through Cotillion, which is a southern institution to enforce all those things that southern ladies and gentlemen of good breeding should know.
I certainly don’t have the etiquette thing wrapped up. Ask anyone who knows me if I am habitually on time, and an honest person will acknowledge that I am often running on the edge of being late, if not actually a few minutes late. Sometimes it is the inevitable consequence of having to be two–and occasionally three–places at one time. Other times it is poor planning as I (still) vastly underestimate just how long it actually takes my little people to find their shoes, put on their shoes, wipe their faces, go to the potty (again for crying out loud!) and wipe their faces again. Sometimes we don’t get the face washed or even the shoes on. But as someone once pointed out to me, being late is essentially saying that my time is more important than someone else’s time. How convicting is that!
Still, though, there are certain things that others do that drive me nuts. Take the four-way stop scenario. I stop, allow all three other drivers to proceed, and almost inevitably someone in a sporty little something (usually with a spoiler and sunroof–I can see these things sitting up in my van as I do) will cut me off. I think there is an element of not wanting to get behind the blue beast I drive. A fifteen passenger van does not exactly inspire the thought of “speedy” or “cornering on rails”, so I can understand why someone would not want to be behind me on the road. They obviously have never known that my nickname as young driver was “Mario Andretti”. Still, though, common courtesy, not the mention THE LAW prescribes the order in which drivers at a four-way stop are to proceed. I’m just asking for a little respect, with apologies to Aretha Franklin.
Another thing that really gets my goat is people who take events so casually that they may as well be sleeping. If I am invited to an event, and I know invitations have gone out, call me silly, but I want an invitation. If I am planning an event, I want to know how many people are coming–within a half-dozen or so–whenever possible. I can be flexible, and if someone tells me that most of their family is coming, but they aren’t sure about one or two, that doesn’t bother me at all. It is when I hear nothing from someone to whom I have sent an invitation that I go a little nuts. I try to heed the RSVP on an invitation. And yes, sometimes I am late, so I do understand when others are late. There is something strange about the “younger generation” (oh my gracious, am I really old enough to be lamenting the younger generation?) and their taking things so very casually. It is as if things just don’t matter. Call me old fashioned, but some things matter.
Another thing that drives me crazy? When people don’t respond to something that really needs a response. I know one person who simply will never, ever, return an email. I know this person can type, and I know this person is internet savvy, and yet, emails are taboo. I understand that a hand-written note is the nicest to receive, but the reality of my life is that an email is sometimes as good as it gets. I can compose an email in the five or ten minutes between math with one child and math with the next. I can accomplish a lot on the computer in general in the spare minutes that I have here and there–except blog of course, because that actually requires that I have my topic composed in my head before I begin, and that takes more time than I have between Bible and spelling. I can stop in the middle of an email and take care of a boo-boo, or George’s poopy underwear, or the eggs on the floor, or the dog mess and come right back to finish my thought when the crisis is over. It doesn’t work so well when I am having a phone conversation. My friends are a patient lot. Most of them are mothers, so they understand when I pause, cover the receiver and ask the child interrupting me if she or he is bleeding before coming back to my conversation. (Blood trumps phone call, as do fire, broken bones and poisonous snakes, just in case you were wondering.)
I find it bothersome when others presume that I will not want to do something or give something or help with an event when they have not bothered to ask. Trust me, if I am too busy (and the truth is that I am TOO busy!) I will tell you! I also love to bless others, and one of the ways I love to bless is by cooking and baking. I am never going to be Paula Dean,
except for the butter but I never claimed to be, either. It gives me joy to know that someone else is blessed by a meal, or a cake, or my help, or anything. I have learned not to presume that others wouldn’t want to help or give. The truth is that you don’t know until you ask. There seems to be a false humility at play when a person refuses to ask.
The flip side of that is when people refuse to accept a gift graciously. I have had to learn to be the gracious (and, yes, humbled) recipient of many gifts in my lifetime. People have blessed our family in so many unexpected and generous ways over the years. I learned early that to reject a truly heart-felt gift was to be rude and ungrateful. I find that some people never want to receive a gift, and by rejecting gifts, they deny others the blessing of giving. I see it happen so very often. I think people hate thinking they are in someone else’s debt. The truth is that sometimes you are the giver, and sometimes you are the receiver. Every gift has to have both in order for it to be a gift. So the question to ask is, are you a hindrance to blessing others because you refuse to accept gifts lovingly given? We cannot have the gift of faith or salvation unless we first received it. That flies in the face of our prideful natures, doesn’t it?
Ultimately, if everyone lived by the golden rule and did unto others as they wished to have others do unto them, this world would be a much sweeter–and less rude–place. I can’t do anything about the idiot at the four-way stop. But I can do something about me. So, please excuse this post.