by Vanessa Marlin
Nob Hill Gazette
Getting Along In A Shrinking World
While on tour to promote her book Star Spangled Manners, Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) delivered a message to her audience at the Commenwealth Club in San Francisco: “Laws come info effect when etiquette fails.”
These days, when people use cell phones everywhere, regardless of others’ annoyance, when push their way off elevators leaving women in their wake, and when even the president gives unsolicited back rubs, many well-mannered people are left wondering: Whatever happened to etiquette?
The good news is that etiquette seems to be making a comeback. Borders Books has an entire section devoted to the topic. From classics such as Emily Post’s Etiquette to the modern day Choosing Civility by P.M Forni, these books adorn he shelves in multiple copies and editions. A Google search of the word “etiquette” came up with a whopping 60,200,000 hits.
Etiquette in today’s world is more important than ever, according to Nob Hill resident Syndi Seid, founder of Advanced Etiquette, a consulting firm in international business and social etiquette and protocol. “The days of the hippy-dippy era are over,” she says. “People of all ages recognize the value and importnce of appropriate behavior, as a w way to be civil, well-liked and accepted. The world is getting smaller, and we must al learn how to get along.”
But even the most etiquette-savvy NHG reader may find it hard to navigate through this ever-changing world. New technology and the Internet are un-chartered areas of etiquette. Also, such touchy areas as when to hand out business cards and whether a woman should wait for a man to open a door for her, challenge those determined to do the “right” thing. Even basic rules n sending thank you notes and responding to an invitation have become lost on many people.
Seid, who, since 1992, has provided etiquette training to companies, organizations, and people all over the world, responded to our request for an interview from her hotel in Trinidad where she was training an American company’s top executives in business etiquette.
She’s expecting a rise in clients - from large corporations looking to establish international protocol to teens seeking basic table manners. “With an increase in violence, both locally and globally, people everywhere are looking toward etiquette as the key to reducing the rage in our society that cause senseless deaths.”
Sarah Kidder, a recent UC Berkeley graduate who started a company a year ago that specializes in even coordination and etiquette advice has also noted increased interest in the subject. Kidder said she deals with two schools of clients: those who grew up learning manners, and those learning them for the first time.
Her services – often free of charge - reach a variety of clients. From brides who spare no expense to bring to life the wedding of their dreams, to groups of women released from prison who want to pursue a better life – the basic message holds true: “Etiquette is rules of a culture, community and city. It’s an awareness of others. It is kindness.”
In San Francisco, arguably the technology capital of the world, a common etiquette topic is the Evite – or Internet invitation. With more residents relying on email as their primary mode of communication – from the black tie event to last-minute poker parties – Internet invites are increasingly popular.
Evites are mass emails sent to a desired group if people that request a response an event posted on a Website. Invitees can see who’s coming, who’s not coming, who’s on the fence, and who hasn’t responded, along with a map to the event and other specific information provided by the host.
Kidder adds that Evites should be used in conjunction with a phone call, and that they can be great for groups and last minute gatherings. “They allow you to tell al lot of people very quickly in an impersonal way when and where an event is, and what they’re expected to bring,” she says. However, “Evites may backfire because people can see who’s coming” and decide they don’t like the guest list. It’s also difficult to gauge who is and isn’t coming without a phone call. Because the invitation is impersonal, the response often seems less important to the person invited.
Seid recommends that Evites be among friends or for informal nonprofit events, although she concedes, “I once received a 60 th birthday black-tie party Evite that was quite lovely. I didn’t feel offended nor thought the host was being cheap. It’s not what you do but how you do it that still counts.”
The same holds true in all areas of etiquette. In the case of reciprocating, Kidder says, “It shouldn’t be about ‘evening it out.’ It’s about “I enjoy your company and I want to return the favor.’ If a host has a dinner party at her spacious estate, the guest should not feel obliged to reciprocate with a dinner at her studio apartment.” “No one is obligated to do anything,” Seid says, “Giving away two extra tickets to the symphony shows appreciation.”
What about handing out a business card at a private party? While there is no clear-cut answer in the U.S., in the international arena, it’s considered gauche to do so. According to Seid, “The one thing you never want to do at a private party is appear as though you’re conducting business at their social event.”
Kidder’s solution is a social card that can be engraved and designed to reflect personal tastes. However, she recommends keeping it simple, with only one’s name, personal email and (if desired) phone number. “When in doubt,” she says, “hand out a personal card.” If you don’t have one, she feels it’s still okay to call the host after a party and inquire about a charming fellow guest.
Hosts often agonize over seating at a private dinner party. Seid recommends that the hosts sit at opposite ends of the table, with dating couples allowed to sit next to each other. Married couples, evidently, may be seated according to the host’s whim.
Bringing a host gift is always desirable as long as it doesn’t interfere with diner. Your homemade guacamole dip may be delicious but it may not always pair well with rack of lamb. “Flowers are always appreciated,” says Kidder, especially if they’re already in a vase so the host doesn’t have to stop to look for one. Another point to keep in mind is that if you bring a bottle of your favorite Lafite Rothschild, the host is not obligated to serve it, nor is he obligated to open a wrapped gift.
To the dismay of brides, hosts and party planners everywhere, people often RSVP at the last minute, or worse – not at all. Imagine the frustration when 100 people are invited to a party at the Fairmont and only 20 respond. How does the host account for the no-shoes and those who show up unannounced?
“Most people know what RSVP means, even though we may not be able to recite the original phrase, “Respondez s’il vous plait” – “Respond, if you please,” says Seid. Some hosts make the mistake of writing, “Please RSVP” on their invitations, which is incorrect, since RSVP already includes “please.”
The RSVP card and enclosed envelope have become more popular recently as a way to entice a response. “Regrettably, my advice is to have someone from the wedding party (not the bride or groom) call folks by telephone to verify that they received the invitation, and to get their response,” says Seid. “What else can you do with impolite people?”
In addition to a prompt RSVP, expressing gratitude through a thank you note is de rigeur. While email and e-cards are quick and simple, a hand-written thank you note is still more gracious.
There are exceptions: Seid recalled a time when she faxed a thank you note to the hotel of a friend who was in San Francisco for only a few days. She said the fax had more mpact in its timeliness than any written thank you note that her friend would have received at her home a week later. “It’s not always the what. It’s the how and when.”
One way to simplify the process of writing thank you notes is to keep a variety of stationary and stamps on hand. For the computer-savvy, Seid recommends Sendoutcards.com, a new service that provides a variety of cards people can print from their own computers. The site even offers personalized fonts, with computer software that allows a user to create a font based on one’s own handwriting.
In conclusion, if you’ve made an etiquette blunder, such as sending out thank you cards six months late, or you’ve committed some other social faux pas, remember that, “Politeness and humanity will ultimately prevail by using the appropriate free-pass phrases,” says Kidder. “I’m so sorry,” and “Please forgive me.”
Reprinted with permission from the Nob Hill Gazette