Saturday, December 31, 2011

Here's a good New Year's resolution: Civility!

Quick! Make a New Year's resolution!

Happy New Year! While you're assessing how 2011 went and considering goals for 2012, why not think of civility?

We found an excellent article, published in Salida, Colorado's Mountain Mail, on this very subject.

"...Maybe, as we jot down our New Year's resolutions, we could add this one: ‘Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those present,’” writes Lee H. Hamilton in the article. “And then let's hope our political leaders add it to their lists, too.”

Hamilton — Director of The Center on Congress at Indiana University, and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years — knows what he's talking about when it comes to politicians and civility. That resolution he suggests comes from George Washington’s “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior” (something we’ve written about before).

“Too often in recent decades our politics have been strident, polarized, coarse — even mean,” Hamilton continues in the article. “We do not show respect to those present. We don't show respect to those who aren't present but, by virtue of television, newspapers and the Web, are just as tuned in as those who are there...And because we do not, we are all the poorer.”

We completely agree! We also agree with his reasons why it’s so important for politicians and civilians alike to practice manners.

“Incivility directly affects the quality and the quantity of the work of governance…it makes it virtually impossible to reconcile opposing views and, therefore, to meet our civic challenges,” he writes. “...Everyone in this country has a responsibility to foster a civic dialogue respecting the people with whom we disagree and advances the interests of the nation.”

And the more “ordinary citizens” can state their cases clearly without attacking those with whom they disagree, “the better our political system will work and the stronger our nation will be.”

We heartily suggest that you go here to read all of the article.

And have a wonderful 2012!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Pasar buenas vacaciones

Trevlig helg

Bonnes vacances

즐거운 휴일 보내세요

Buone vacanze

Any way you say it, we wish it so for you and yours!

Happy Holidays!!!!!!

Debra Lassiter, April McLean & Cindy Haygood

The Etiquette & Leadership Institute

December 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Xtreme Makeover with the Ron Clark Academy!

During the season of giving, we were privileged to be a part of something truly special: making over a bedroom. It might sound small, but it's a life-changing event for a child. In this case, two children.

Every year, the Ron Clark Academy transforms a deserving child's life with the RCA Xtreme Room Makeover Competition. RCA students are selected for the event through an essay contest, and then corporate sponsors are matched with those families to renovate the bedrooms. The top three bedrooms are honored at a special ceremony at school, but it's safe to say that every child chosen for this event comes out a winner. (This was the fourth year of the challenge; you can see pictures of past winning bedroom designs here, here, and here.)

Before we got to work, we had to go shopping, of course. So we assembled a great team.

And we had some fun.

And then we actually did some work - painting, assembling new furniture, everything!

We could not wait for the family to come home! Finally, they did...

It just wouldn't be complete without a Christmas tree - or the traditional pose in front of it.

What a wonderful experience!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Guess who's taking naps on the porch

We were absolutely delighted to be interviewed by Susan of the fantastic blog, Between Naps on the Porch. We chatted about etiquette and hosting (or attending) dinner parties and holiday events.

You can read it right here!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tips for the imperfect (or normal) Thanksgiving gathering

If you have never looked this happy at the dinner table, don't worry. You are not alone.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to gather cherished friends and family, eat delicious food, and bask in collective gratitude for all the precious things in our lives.

Of course, no one is perfect. Some Thanksgiving dinners are less like a soft-focus greeting card and more like a semi-polite line of scrimmage. Some guests might not get along. Someone may not like the food. Before you know it, the once-tranquil atmosphere around the table has gotten tense.

What should you do?

We say: prepare now! Here our some quick tips to ensure a happier gathering of any sort:

1. Don’t discuss politics, religion, or money. There are a lot of other things to talk about, trust us.

2. Do keep your phone off the table and out of sight! Unless you are expecting an emergency, calls and texts (and Facebook-checking) can wait until after the meal.

3. Do take the stress off yourself, host or hostess, by having the table set before your guests arrive and letting family members serve themselves (to keep the flow going, pass dishes to the right, unless someone to your immediate left requests what you have in your hands).

4. Do take things outside. If children are getting rambunctious, adults are falling into tryptophan-induced sleepiness, or an argument is getting heated, suggest a walk around the block or some playtime in the yard. (Inclement weather? Hand them umbrellas and boots and get to it.)

5. Do try to see your guests as who they are: loved ones. Maybe quirky or argumentative or sensitive or sarcastic, but all people who matter in your life. Try to embrace it. Cherish those memories! Someday, you might even be able to laugh about some of them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Show manners for the club/bar scene

Look what we found.

This is just one panel - see the whole comic strip here!

Athens artist Missy Kulik recently made this comic strip that made us realize something important.

When we talk about etiquette at shows, we so often mean sit-down, quiet affairs - like a play or ballet, the opera or symphony. But plenty of people enjoy going out to shows at night-rock, country, indie, whatever. And that means a lot of people in a small space with loud, flashy stimuli.

Which means that good or bad manners can make or break your evening.

Kulik recounted her recent unfortunate evening captured in her comic strip, noting that crowd manners in general "have changed" in the many years she's been attending shows.

Years ago, "people were there for the music and up front" near the stage, says Kulik. Now, "music shows are more of a place to be seen rather than to see," she says. "So many folks checking their smart phones, or checking in on Facebook. I don't mind [that happening] between acts, but when people are down in front and whip out an iPad to check Facebook, something is wrong - yes, we have witnessed that!"

We talked to several friends who are musicians and/or enthusiastic show attendees and gathered some great tips.

• Respect other people's personal space.

"At the Of Montreal show last week, this girl behind me started pogo-ing and grabbing my shoulders," one friend told us. When our friend confronted her, she got this response: "It's Of Montreal, deal with it!"

Another friend has had her hair set on fire by someone not paying attention to their lighter and cigarette. Another got a black eye from the flailing limbs of an overenthusiastic dancer. Crowd surfers, take note: you will inevitably kick someone in the head, or get kicked in the head.

If you want to dance, dance-just keep it appropriate to the show (no mosh pit-style thrashing during a heartfelt ballad, for instance). And keep your hands and feet to yourself.

• Let other people see the show.

If you are a tall person, try not to park yourself in front of the shortest person in the room. And listen up: "You have a good view anywhere, and no one wants to have their face pressed into a sweaty back all night," says one of our friends, a self-professed "shortish" person.

Regardless of your height, don't arrive to the show late and then shove your way to the front row.

Try to keep a check on distracting behavior. You might be so thrilled to be at the show that you want to share it with the world, but flash photography (if you aren't a sanctioned press photographer) or recording the show with your cell phone can obstruct others' views of the show.

• Let other people hear the show.

Everyone around you paid money to hear their favorite band play their music live-not to listen to you loudly chat with your buddies or loudly broadcast a personal phone call.

• Keep private behavior out of the public eye.

Having a thrilling date? Realizing you have found the love of your life and you absolutely must express this joyous epiphany this very moment? Congratulations! We only ask that you refrain from, shall we say, intimate dancing (or more) in the middle of the club. If you want to smooch, take that business to the back of the room (or save it until later when you don't have a captive and unwilling audience).

On a similar note, a very common complaint among young women is that men will bump into them, say "excuse me," and then use that opportunity to unnecessarily touch or even grope the women, trying to pass it off as either an accident or conciliatory gesture. "I'm not sure how unwelcome touching is supposed to make it up to me if you invaded my personal space the first time," says one of our friends.

This is simply unacceptable. Don't do it.

• Respect the venue.

A friend of ours who works security at a club is routinely tasked with picking up beer bottles and cups from the ground (usually mere feet away from a trashcan), or sorting out plumbing issues in the bathroom because of trash. Folks, someone has to clean up that mess, and it's a human being. Remember that.

• Watch your alcohol consumption.

For some people, having a good time at a show involves a drink or two (or three or more). Do everyone a favor and drink it at the bar-you know you are going to spill your drink all over yourself (or a complete stranger) the moment you bring it into a jostling crowd. In romantic comedies, that's sometimes classified as "meeting cute." In real life, it's "being uncomfortably wet and smelling gross the rest of the night."

And remember, it's an unfortunate fact that getting drunk, while possibly fun at the time, can also contribute to you acting like a jerk to other people. Surround yourself with good friends who can gently redirect you when needed.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Get "Poised for Success!"

We love reading good books and sharing reviews...This book review comes from Cindy!

Jacqueline Whitmore’s new book, “Poised For Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals,” premiers as the perfect model of the new type of 21st century etiquette book.

Her content is wrapped around the tenet that the way we treat other people is all about everyday behaviors. The book completely covers the topics of preparing yourself for business and social endeavors and all of those in between. Every reader will find nuggets of wisdom—from the high school student wishing to establish great opportunities to the CFO wanting to re-imagine herself.

Written in an easy-to-read and comfortable style, the book is just like the advice Jacqueline is offering: if we are confident in our social and business actions, then our company is pleasant, easy to be around, and pleasurable.

I judge a book by the number of times I reach for my highlighter to underscore a passage that resonates with me. I now have a beautifully highlighted copy of the book. “Poised for Success” is a necessary addition to every etiquette consultant’s library, but it’s the perfect gift for any reader. I hope you’ll get a copy because I know you will enjoy her advice and wisdom.

“Poised for Success” is on bookshelves today! Order your copy now!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Training next week!

Debra, April and Cindy are excited!

Our next round of etiquette training certification starts next week , and we can't wait!

This time, we have future etiquette consultants traveling to our training from Virginia, Illinois, Georgia, Texas and Canada. Like our last training week in June - or the one before that, last November - we anticipate a lot of fun. And why not? We get to share what we love to do: shaping the next generation of leaders by arming them with good manners, spreading the importance of treating others with kindness, preserving and promoting civility...and dancing!

We also get to share some of the people who make our job the best in the world: the children we teach both in Athens and at the Ron Clark Academy. Teaching around 4,000 children and teenagers a year in 12 area counties makes us really be able to say that we both talk the talk AND walk the walk.

Hope to see you at our next training week!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reaching into the community

Debra teaching the art of handshakes with the PRSSA at UGA

The women of ELI — Debra Lassiter, Cindy Haygood, and April McLean — are probably best known for their work with children through Perfectly Polished. They are familiar faces at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. And those who want to become certified children’s etiquette consultants know that ELI sets the gold standard in training.

But did you know that ELI’s outreach goes far beyond that?

Let’s just take a quick look at Debra’s current teaching schedule to get an idea of how busy she stays.

When Debra is not busy teaching elementary, middle and high school students through Perfectly Polished, she is regularly bringing etiquette to the larger community Northeast Georgia community.

In October, she spoke about professional development (resumes, dressing for interviews, meeting and greeting) to the Public Relations Student Society of America at the University of Georgia. She gave a dining tutorial to the Georgia Society of CPAs. She taught job skills through Bread for Life, a local non-profit that brings people out of poverty and into the workforce.

Debra with the Georgia Society of CPAs

In November — after mentoring a new group of consultants during ELI’s training week — Debra will speak about business etiquette for “life after college” at the UGA Terry College of Business Women’s Conference. And she’ll share professional business savvy with educators who are aspiring administrators through Northeast Georgia RESA (Rising Stars).

Of course, while all of this is going on, she is also planning (along with Cindy and April) the annual Holly Ball for Perfectly Polished lead dance members, as well as the Mystery Mistletoe Dinner Dance (a three-course dining tutorial with dances in between) for Perfectly Polished seventh graders.

And that just gets us through the winter. There are plenty more classes and speaking engagements that follow in the spring! For Debra, it’s just part of the job she loves. For ELI, it’s a way to keep spreading our favorite message: etiquette is the key to more kind, fulfilling, and enjoyable lives.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Manners or grades?

Did you catch Matt Lauer on Today talking about what parents want more from their children - good manners or good grades?

On a recent segment, Lauer announced that NBCU surveyed (an unspecified amount of) women, asking parents whether they’d prefer for their children to have good manners or grades. The overwhelming answer? Manners, by 77 percent.

For the most part, Lauer’s panelists agreed with that.

“I’ve always said that I would rather have a child in the middle of the pack – I don’t need the brainiest in the classroom,” said Dr. Nancy Snyderman. “A child who has good manners, who can make eye contact, a strong handshake, that opens doors for success.”

Star Jones said she wanted both: “I want you to be smart, and I want you to be nice!” When Lauer pressed her to choose one or the other, she chose smart. “Smart gets you in the door.”

Donny Deutsch said he’d choose manners. “If you’ve got a kid who’s got a million IQ and he looks at you saying, ‘Hi Joey,’ and he doesn’t look at you, there’s nothing worse,” he said.

“I think manners gets you in the door,” said Lauer.

What do we think? Well, why not encourage both? It’s a winning combination, after all. But it’s important to remember that your child may not be always be the smartest in the room, but it’s easy to be the kindest.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cook, Waitress, and Charming Hostess!

Here’s a 1960 copy of “Emily Post’s Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage.” See how well-worn (and loved) it is?

As you might expect, there are parts of the book that are old-fashioned, and other parts that are still completely appropriate for today.

For instance, rare is the person who is familiar with the concerns of a house staffed with a housekeeper, housemaids, parlor maids, butler, footmen, cook, under-cook, kitchen maids, nurse, personal maid, valet, chauffeur, and gardener — as described in the chapter “The Well-Appointed House.” (Even when the book was written, the information was provided mostly to make a well-rounded book: “How can any house require a score of servants? The answer is, it can’t, unless the house is of a size that in this, our day, has become virtually obsolete,” Post wrote.)

However, a later chapter, “Cook, Waitress, and Charming Hostess!” is far more relatable, and addresses that host “who has not only to cook the dinner but to serve it without ever leaving the table.” In other words, pretty much everyone these days.

Some advice from that chapter, written for the 1960s host:

• Set your table formally and have the first course on the table before your guests go into dinner. Use a pair of sturdy serving tables for “supplies and discards,” placing “one to stand at the side of your husband’s chair and the other next your own.”
OUR TAKE: Think through the entire dinner party from start to finish. Before guests arrive, arrange your serving pieces and place labels on the serving counter so you won't forget to take anything out of the refrigerator (although if you do forget something, it's probably just because you are having a great time!). When it comes to clean-up, keep courses moving seamlessly by designating a place for used dishes and utensils. If you are using your sterling, have a dish of sudsy water ready to make cleaning quick.

• Plan your menu, keeping your serving platters in mind. Think of quality and ease. “It doesn’t really matter whether you give...saddle of lamb or corned beef hash - what does matter is that it shall be good of its kind,” Post wrote. “It is much better to serve something simple than to try a dish too difficult to prepare alone.”
OUR TAKE: Focusing on simple, good recipes that you know well will make for a far less stressful event for the host.

• As your guests lounge post-dinner in the living room, take a prepared coffee tray, carry it into the living room, put it on your coffee table (oh! that’s what they’re for!) and make the coffee in the company of your guests.
OUR TAKE: This would be a lovely way to end a night. However, use your judgment: sometimes, moving from the dinner table to another room might interrupt the conversation and flow of the evening. Sometimes serving dessert at the table is easiest; other times, you can ask guests if they would move into the family room (or around the fireplace, patio, or porch, depending on weather). Wherever you end up, always make your guests feel like the most important in the world!

Other tidbits from the Mad Men era

• Keep a Little Jack Horner shelf for unexpected dinner guests. This is an “emergency shelf of provisions,” filled with food stored in “Cartons or tins, ready to eat as they are or as soon as heated,” as well as paper plates, cups, napkins, and flatware. “When the party is over, all you need to do is to take off the little remaining food...and dump everything else into the fire or garbage can,” Post wrote. Treat it like an impromptu “picnic supper.”
OUR TAKE: We love the idea of always having something on hand for guests, although we suggest a more environmentally sound approach—your own plates and silverware, or reusable bamboo plates and flatware—than disposable items to chuck in the garbage. We also love that this puts the focus on the company, not the food. We know of one pop-in visit that turned into a dinner where the main course was Pop-Tarts - and it was both delicious and memorable.

• You don’t have to be wealthy to have fun. “A young couple living in a single room that has a folding sofa-bed so that the room can be made into the semblance of a sitting-room, may ask friends they care for — and others are of no importance — to come to their ‘home in a room,’” Post wrote. “The real secret of successful party-giving is simply the gift of never outgrowing a child’s imagination. In other words, the spirit of ‘let’s pretend,’ which enters into the play of all children, is the very spirit that animates the subconscious mind of every ideal hostess.”
OUR TAKE: We say a gigantic RIGHT ON, Emily Post! Beautifully summed up.

The general take-home message for the host who does it all?

“When the hostess has a good time, the guests usually do too,” Post wrote. We couldn’t agree more!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What NOT to say to a pregnant woman

If you’ve ever been pregnant or know someone who has been pregnant, than you already know: those nine months (give or take) are an emotional rollercoaster.

Enduring unsolicited advice, prying questions or even a stranger’s patting hand on your expanding belly is enough to send anyone over the edge — especially a pregnant woman!

When we asked friends for some of the things they heard or experienced while pregnant, so many of them had terrible stories of rude, thoughtless comments. And so many of the comments were the same across the board! How many times can a person comment on another person’s body weight? Apparently, a lot.

Many of these advice-givers (and belly-rubbers) have good intentions. They might want to share in the joy of an impending birth, or make a light-hearted joke, or somehow relate to you in a friendly way.

So we’re here to help remind you that some things are not very polite.

• The number one rule? Never, ever ask if someone is pregnant. She could be overweight. She could have just had a baby. She could have just had a miscarriage. She might actually be pregnant but is not ready to talk about it. It doesn’t matter why — it’s very personal. Pregnant women will share the news if they want to talk about it.

• Avoid patting the pregnant woman’s belly — especially if you are a stranger! A pregnant woman sees your hand coming toward her, and she’s going to be worrying about personal boundaries, germs, protecting her child, and any thought associated with being touched by a stranger.

• Think twice before giving (unsolicited) advice. A lot of people don’t realize that childbirth, breastfeeding, even cloth vs. disposable diapering are hot button issues that carry a lot of uncertainty, fear, and guilt. If you are close friends with the mom-to-be, she probably already knows your thoughts on the subjects and will ask questions if she’s interested in your perspective. It is acceptable to say, “If you ever have any interest or questions about epidurals or natural childbirth, or bottle-feeding or breastfeeding, I’m happy to talk about it.” And then leave it at that.

• No reliving of your own pregnancy/morning sickness/childbirth stories! A pregnant mother has enough to worry about without other people’s horror stories. Try to avoid sentences that start out with, “I had the worst...”

And now, here are some of the “pearls of wisdom” our mama-friends have heard during their own pregnancies:

• “Wow, you’re about to pop.” First of all, gross. Second of all, that woman who is about to “pop” may be weeks or months away from giving birth.

• “Wow, you must be due any day now!” See above.

• “You’re huge!” “You’re getting so big!” “Oh, it’s OK, you’re eating for two!” Well, pregnancy does mean that a woman is growing another human being inside of her own body. She's not going to be getting smaller!

• “Your [insert any body part here] is getting wider, so it must be a boy [or girl]!”

• “Are you having twins?”

• “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” This is not as humorous as it might seem when said to a still-pregnant woman. Also, remember that women’s stomachs do not magically shrink immediately after giving birth: you might be asking that question to a sleep-deprived new mom who prefers not to hear your commentary on her body shape or size.

• “Were you trying, or was it a surprise?” Think about what you are asking — you can’t get much more personal than that!

• “Should I say congratulations or I’m sorry?”

• “Enjoy it now!” Or, “Rest now because you won’t be able to soon,” and so on. Basically, you are saying, “Life is about to get terrible.” Not very positive!

If a woman has told you that she is pregnant, there is one very acceptable thing to say: “Congratulations!” Other things — “You look great!” or “Can I help you with that?” — are also welcome!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Perfectly Polished kicks off a new year!

Perfectly Polished kicked off another school year on Sept. 8! Here’s a behind-the scenes look at what it takes to get a new year going.

We have 70 staff members who help Debra, Cindy, and April teach. A few of our staff are in college, but most are high school students. We tried something new this year and we asked them to complete an application, write a resume, and interview for the job - great practice for their future careers!

Our interview team...

...spent some quality time with many young people, including these folks:

The best part was when they received notification that they got the job: a staff T-shirt sent in the mail, the package filled with confetti and glitter.

We like to have fun, but they take their jobs seriously. We have an attendance policy for staff meetings (if they miss three or more, they leave the staff), and if they must miss work, it is their responsibility to find a replacement. When they’re on the job, they interact with the younger students, not other staff members. You might wonder whether high school students can be held to these standards, and the answer is: of course! With flying colors. And they get leadership and communication skills, too.

So, what do members of our staff actually do? They assist the teachers, mentor the younger children, and have fun with and encourage all of the students. Our younger students adore and truly look up to the high school and college staff for guidance. And our staff gains valuable experience as they learn to take the microphone, stand in front of a group and not only teach but command attention and respect from the audience.

Once we have our staff, we are ready to roll! We regularly visit schools in 12 area counties, teaching etiquette and dance to a total of around 4,000 children and teenagers. So far, we’ve already learned some very valuable how to eat a cupcake... to receive a diploma or certificate...

...and how to speak clearly into a microphone.

We’re looking forward to a great year!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Madonna, hydrangeas, and "Thank you"

Madonna has made a career of being controversial or provocative, but she’s in the news right now for something a little less dazzling: bad manners.

Have you seen the video? At a recent press conference for her new film, W.E., a fan handed a bouquet of hydrangeas to Madonna, who accepted them graciously enough. She even said “Thank you” twice.

But then she grimaced and said — despite the fact that a microphone was right in front of her — “I absolutely loathe hydrangeas. He obviously doesn’t know that.”

Let’s use this unfortunate incidence as a reminder for all of us. All of us have received a less-than-desirable gift, which probably means that at some point you have given a less-than-desirable gift! Think about the effort and love behind the present. If you open a gift and it’s not what you want, all you need to say is two words.

“Thank you.”

Not “Thank you, but...” or anything else. Just “Thank you.” No need to elaborate. Leave it at that.

Madonna’s reaction makes us think of this little gem from Elsie de Wolfe: “Be pretty as you can, be witty if you must, but be gracious if it kills you!”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Etiquette is...subtle

Today's blog post comes from Cindy:

I arrived completely obsessive, compulsive, organized, and fully American! Those are almost always great attributes.

“I’m Cindy Haygood, here to pick up my car,” I said, presenting my paperwork. “This is the rental agreement and the receipt.”

It sounded organized and professional, and I’ve gotten to the gist of the transaction right away. All OK - except for a few subtle details. I was not in America, and I was talking to the top of a head! The person behind the desk was still sitting down.

I’m a quick study. I took a step backward, breathed in the island breeze, looked around at the beautiful water and gorgeous flowers and said, “Good morning to you. I hope you are well today.”

The head came up, but no smile. “Good day to you,” he said. “Now, how is it I can help you?”

It took me a full five minutes, but I did manage to get a smile from the man — something usually accomplished within moments, but I was out of my civil clime. As the customer, I presented myself completely with my own viewpoint in mind. My ego was so overcharged that I could not pick up all the signals around me. I based my communication solely on my own thoughts and instincts.

A few short months later, I repeated the scene, but this time I started with, “Good morning, a beautiful day today. I see the bougainvillea is in full bloom...”

Before you travel, be aware of the cultural nuances that influence any interaction, including introductions. With a little research, you can make a better first impression. We will talk about different introductions in other countries in upcoming blog posts!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Off to college!

For many college freshmen, the education extends far beyond the classroom as they experience so many firsts: living away from family, meal-planning, budgeting, paying bills, doing laundry...

What about manners?

If they’re lucky, they’ve gotten a foundation in etiquette at home, but that’s not always the case. But even students (including those we’ve taught at Perfectly Polished) who are well-versed in etiquette have a few surprises.

“It’s really important to remember that everyone comes from a different culture,” said one college freshmen, who is going to a large state college after attending a small private school. “Even if everybody is from Georgia, we have all come from a unique culture.”

That might mean that cussing up a storm might offend your new roommate—or, alternately, holding a door for fellow classmates may prompt them to “look at you like you are from Mars because no one has ever held the door for them,” says our friend.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t hold doors open for friends—it’s not outdated to be nice to people, especially if you’re trying to make friends. And it’s important to remember the basics: “If someone bumps into you, look them in the eye, smile and say sorry.”

Other advice for the college freshman from the college freshman, gathered from former Perfectly Polished students:

• Oversleeping doesn’t mean you should wear your pajamas to class! Take a few extra minutes to get properly dressed before you step outside.

• If you are talking to someone, take your earbuds out of your ears, even if you think you can hear the other person.

• Similarly, if you are talking to someone, don’t text at the same time! Give your full attention to the person in front of you.

• Don’t overextend yourself. We heard a story where a freshman applied to a student organization, was accepted but then, feeling overwhelmed, skipped the first meeting. After that, she was not chosen for leadership positions in other campus organizations.

• “Be where your feet are,” says a friend. Live in the present! Don’t miss out on things happening around you—classes, meals, activities, friends—because you’re stuck in the past of dreaming about the future.

• Got a roommate? Have a chat about noise and cleanliness.

• Try talking. Be the one to start a conversation in the elevator, make afternoon plans with friends, or ask questions in class.

• You don’t have to be from the South to call professors (or any university employee) “ma’am” and “sir.”

• If you see someone having trouble—lost on campus, confused in the student bookstore, looking lonely outside of the dorm—ask if you can help.

• If someone gives you help, accept it graciously and say thank you!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

To tip or not to tip: the hair salon owner

Tipping has a storied history. Though there is some controversy to this particular tale, it is widely believed that once upon a time, tips were given before a service was rendered — “To Insure Promptness,” get it? Tip beforehand and get better service, people thought.

How the times change! As we’ve mentioned before, it’s customary to tip your hairdresser at least 15-20 percent. But what if your hairdresser is also the salon owner?

You might be wondering why that would make a difference. Conventional etiquette wisdom has long held that you do not tip your hairdresser if he or she is also the salon owner.

But when we talked to several friends who are certified etiquette experts, we were reminded again how etiquette changes with the times.

Several of the experts tip their hairdressers (who are also the salon owners) every time, saying the gesture is thoughtful and shows appreciation for their services. One said she would tip a hairdresser/owner only if the service was exceptional.

One expert said that after going to the same hairdresser for years, the hairdresser opened her own salon. Our friend still tips her for her quality services. The owner shouldn’t be penalized for taking a business risk and probably needs the tips more now than ever, she said.

If you are going to a new hairdresser, there’s no need to ask whether he or she is the owner to determine whether to tip—err on the side of caution and tip anyway! If the hairdresser makes it known that he or she is the owner, then you have a decision to make.

To tip or not to tip a salon owner? If you feel strongly compelled to tip, then do so—just know that it is not required.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Manners at school

Can you believe school is right around the corner? In fact, some schools in our area have already started. If you haven’t already, it’s time to celebrate the end of summer vacation in grand fashion—one last trip to the pool, beach, lake, or lawn sprinkler may be in order—and get ready for school.

And of course, it’s an excellent time to remind the children in your life of good manners.

“As parents and students prepare for the start of another school year, teaching children everyday etiquette can be the greatest gift that we can give kids,” says Hilary Brennan, an ELI-trained and certified etiquette consultant in Morristown, NJ. “A nervous buzz of excitement and apprehension can be felt in the hallways those first weeks of school as children venture off in September.”

(Or, if you live here, August!)

Here are our tips for making a smooth transition from summer to school with good manners:

Model good behavior. Parents, if you are accompanying your children to an open house of the first day of school, remember to lead by your example. Children are like thermometers—if you are nervous, they will be too. And if you are confident and friendly, they’ll mirror that.

Watch the clock. If you want to make a good impression, be on time. This holds true for everyone, so why not start encouraging this behavior with children? Teachers appreciate it, the day runs smoother, and it makes those rare days when you are inescapably late less offensive.

Start the welcome wagon. What if your child is a seasoned, well-behaved student who knows the ropes? Encourage him or her to welcome new students with a solid introduction (don’t forget to smile and make eye contact) and an offer to help in any way. This kind of life skill translates to future success: Today’s friendly student leader is tomorrow’s company vice president.

Be kind. Adults know that it’s the little things that can turn a day around for the better, and children can start this approach now by opening doors for others (especially if they are loaded down with piles of books or otherwise having trouble), helping others pick up dropped items...and not joining in on teasing, name-calling, or other forms of bullying.

“From the moment they step onto their bus, well before learning begins, students will need essential skills to help navigate through their day—making eye contact, using a confident leadership voice, and maintaining good posture,” says Brennan. “In daily life, social skills affect everything you do and makes navigating everyday life easier. These skills need to be practiced, take time to develop and need to be cultivated. The transition to the classroom, field or stage can be smoother when kids are prepared, aware and confident in any circumstance.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Molasses Classes" no more!

When you think of non-fiction books about effective teaching strategies, “page turner” probably doesn’t come to mind.

That’s only because you haven’t yet read Ron Clark’s new book, “The End of Molasses Classes.”

First, there’s the title. What’s a “molasses class?” Clark — author, Disney “American Teacher of the Year,” and Oprah Winfrey’s first “Phenomenal Man” — explains it right away. Molasses means slow, and that’s exactly how he would describe so many classrooms in the U.S.: slow-moving classrooms sapped of all energy, with drained teachers and half-asleep students.

That’s the exact opposite of what you get at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta and with this book. Much of that is due to his writing voice—engaging, bright, energetic, just like Clark is in real life (as we know, from visiting the school often as etiquette instructors). But he also includes so many real-life examples of how he’s solved problems in the classroom and in the homes of his inspiring students, that by the end the reader feels like he or she knows them.

That’s all very well and good, you say, but what’s the book about?

In a nutshell, it’s about energizing and improving teachers so they can invigorate their classrooms, reach their students, and create a difference in education so strong that Clark calls it a revolution. Readers can learn how to do this in part by reading about RCA’s core values.

It is clear that the school is a highly disciplined environment, but that within those rigid guidelines is plenty of room to thrive and even shine. Clark and other RCA teachers push their students, often giving grades that are probably lower than what students would get at other places—but those high expectations result in not only impressive test scores but also a love for learning. Students feel loved, too: Clark visits students homes just to see how they are studying, and invites them to his house for dinner. School trips routinely include visits to other countries (global learning is a hallmark at RCA). Teachers get to work early and stay late, and think nothing of volunteering their time to put together last-minute events or even remodel a student’s dire living conditions.

The book also offers tips to parents on how to encourage their children without being “a helicopter parent,” he writes. “You can’t come to their rescue forever...Parents need to learn that there is a difference between supporting and interfering.” (Interfering, as illustrated by several examples he’s experienced, includes insisting a student hasn’t cheated when he has, or complaining about or demanding changes to grades.)

Clark’s clear devotion to his students is impressive, especially his way of becoming involved in their personal lives — a brave choice, when many teachers keep students’ home lives (especially when they are messy, and thus more in need of intervention) at arm’s length.

Not every school can have a giant blue slide that goes from the second to first floor. Not every school can rewire a classroom to accommodate a “magical red button” that triggers a strobe light display to celebrate everyday achievements. Not every school can incorporate Hogwarts-style school houses.

But there are plenty of changes people can make that cost nothing at all, other than your time and commitment. Those investments yield so much, as evidenced by the heartwarming (sometimes tear-jerking!) success stories of RCA students.

In fact, by the time you finish the book, you’ll wish you could be an RCA student, too!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Conference etiquette

Conferences are a wonderful way to learn more about your job, network, or simply explore personal growth. If you are preparing to attend one, please remember that manners are just as important at conferences as they are anywhere else.

Here are just a few tips for registered guests:

• Remember that guests paid to hear the lecturer’s expertise. Please refrain from whispering or chatting incessantly while the presenter is speaking.

• Similarly, if an attendee asks a question, let the lecturer answer it — don’t jump in to answer it yourself or otherwise derail or monopolize the conversation.

• If your workshop does not require you to have your laptop, iPad or other tech equipment out on the table, keep it in your bag and look at the presenter as he or she is talking.

• Remember to silence those cell phones! If you are expecting an extremely important call, be prepared to take it out in the hallway.

• If you have questions, write them down—most presenters will tell you there will be time at the end of the session to answer questions.

• Arriving late or leaving early can be a distraction. But what if the session you are in is starting to run late, and you have another session to attend? Stay until the last possible moment, and then quietly make your exit. Then, later, either speak to or leave a note for the presenter who was running late, apologizing for leaving early but explaining that you had to get to the next session. Be sure to tell the speaker how much you enjoyed the presentation, and mention if you've learned something new - that way, you can turn something negative (leaving early) into something positive (conveying that you learned valuable information).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month

How many times have you overheard a complete stranger’s most personal details, loudly shared during a cell phone call? Or tried to watch a movie in a theater, only to be distracted by the flashing lights of text messages?

We’ve shared before a handy guide on when and where you should turn off your cell phone. It’s a topic worth revisiting, especially since July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month!

Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of National Cell Phone Courtesy Month

In July 2002, etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore saw a need for education on proper cell phone use. Then she realized no such awareness formally existed—so she formed National Cell Phone Courtesy Month herself.

Whitmore is the founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach and the author of Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin’s Press, 2005) and the upcoming Poised for Success (St. Martin’s Press, November 2011). She has appeared on ABC’s 20/20, The Fox Report with Shepard Smith, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360°, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, ExtraTV, CNBC, and

So, as you might imagine, she was uniquely qualified to start an awareness campaign on cell phone etiquette.

Even though that was 9 years ago, Whitmore says she still sees plenty of bad cell phone manners, both in texting and calling, and it’s not just young people who are the offenders.

“The Millenials or Gen-Ys do more texting, but I think the Baby Boomers are catching up as much,” she said during a recent phone call. “Each generation violates their own set of cell phone etiquette rules.”

Common cell phone pet peeves include the “cell yell” (someone loudly sharing a private conversation or even argument while on the phone), calling or texting at movie theaters or concerts, and customers refusing to get off the phone while a sales clerk, bank teller or other service industry workers attempt to help them.

The phone itself isn’t a problem, she says: it’s how you use it.

“I don’t mind texting,” she said. “It’s only a problem when you do it in the company of other people, not paying attention to the person you’re with.”

These days, even young children have cell phones designed and marketed especially to them—not just toys meant to model mom’s or dad’s phone, but working cell phones. We asked Whitmore whether she thought such early exposure to technology would change the way children interact socially with others as they grow—would they, for example, be unable to look at someone in the face while talking to them, so used to communicating via texting?

Again, Whitmore suggested the phone is a tool, and it’s up to parents to teach their children how and when to use it.

“Children are receiving their messages of what’s right and wrong from their parents,” she said. “When they see their parents engaging in poor cell phone behavior, they think that’s the right way to act.”

So, parents: if you out to dinner, the movies, or anywhere else it’s inappropriate to use your phone, and you tell your children to put the phones away, that means you need to follow your own advice.

“You can’t have a double standard,” she said.

We are pleased to share with you Whitmore’s top 10 cell phone etiquette tips, used with permission from her blog. For more information, visit her website.

1. Be all there. When you’re in a meeting, performance, courtroom or other busy area, let calls go to voicemail to avoid a disruption. In some instances, it’s best to put your phone on silent mode.

2. Keep it private. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid discussing private or confidential information in public. You never know who may be in hearing range.

3. Keep your cool. Don’t display anger during a public call. Conversations that are likely to be emotional should be held where they will not embarrass or intrude on others.

4. Learn to vibe. Use your wireless phone’s silent or vibration settings in public places such as business meetings, religious services, schools, restaurants, theaters or sporting events so that you don’t disrupt your surroundings.

5. Avoid “cell yell.” Remember to use your regular conversational tone when speaking on your wireless phone. People tend to speak more loudly than normal and often don’t recognize how distracting they can be to others.

6. Follow the rules. Some places, such as some restaurants or courtrooms, restrict or prohibit the use of mobile phones, so adhere to posted signs and instructions. Some jurisdictions may also restrict mobile phone use in public places.

7. Excuse yourself. If you’re expecting a call that can’t be postponed, alert your companions ahead of time and excuse yourself when the call comes in; the people you’re with should take precedence over calls you want to make or receive.

8. Send a text message when you want to send a quick message. But remember not to text while having a conversation with another person. It’s important to give others, especially clients and customers, your full, undivided attention.

9. Watch and listen discreetly. Multimedia applications such as streaming video and music are great ways to stay informed and access the latest entertainment. Use earphones to avoid distracting others in public areas.

10. Don’t text and drive. Don’t put your life or those of others at risk. Pull over if you absolutely must send a message or wait until you reach your destination.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Terrific Tuesdays with the Ron Clark Academy

The Ron Clark Academy is such a special place, and we are honored to have a relationship with them!

During the school year, we have Terrific Tuesdays. On these days, Debra and a handful of college staff members pile into the car and head to Atlanta for a fun-filled afternoon.

On Terrific Tuesdays, we teach two classes ranging from 15-25 students a variety of topics. We cover all the basics, but also some oft-forgotten details: how to properly use chopsticks, write thank-you notes, or receive a diploma. You know, the fun stuff.

There’s also dancing, of course. We teach the Cha-Cha, Waltz, Fox Trot, Electric Slide, and the Snap. In return, we learn some new dance moves, too, sometimes invented on the spot by our students.

There’s also a gigantic blue slide.

Yes, the Ron Clark Academy has a big blue indoor slide—you see it right when you come in the front doors of the main building. Getting “slide-certified” is quite an honor. You climb to the top of the slide, listen to students down below sing a special song, and then down you go.

We just finished our second year of Terrific Tuesdays, and can't wait to return to the Ron Clark Academy the next school year!