Monday, March 28, 2011

George Washington's Rules

Have you ever read “George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation”?

Sometime before he turned 16, our first President wrote down these 110 rules. Our book copy has corrected and modernized spelling and sentence structure, which is helpful when quickly perusing. But there’s added charm when you read how Washington originally wrote the rules.

We’ll be checking in with Washington’s Rules every once in awhile, and I think you’ll find that they have not lost any relevance, even over 260 years later.

Here’s today’s sampling:

• “1st. Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.” That’s what manners are all about: offering respect to others. Can you imagine how much more pleasant our world would be if we all followed this one rule?

• “4th. In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.” True story: someone we know once shared office space with another individual who had grown so accustomed to constantly (as in, never ceasing) humming and singing at work that surely he (or she! Not naming names!) likely didn’t even realize that he (or she!) was making a completely unproductive work environment. Sometimes, the office was treated to passionate drum solos on the desk. When gently confronted, he (or she!) was flummoxed - didn’t even realize it was happening. Long story short: Please don’t do this.

• “7th. Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest.” Something tells us that today’s notion of “half Drest” would shock Washington right out of his cherry tree. Certainly in any professional situation, err on the side of caution, and be fully “Drest.”

• “11th. Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.” Nail-biting is a hard habit to break, as any parent of a nail-biter knows. Not only is it not healthy (your nails are there for a reason), it doesn’t look very nice.

• “14th. Turn not your Back to others especially in Speaking, Jog not the Table or Desk on which Another reads or writes, lean not upon any one.” This is a great reminder to children: Always remember to look someone in the eye during a conversation, and keep your hands to yourself at your school desk.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Holding Your Breath #3

A friend of ours has a very extroverted four-year-old who loves talking to people, even complete strangers.

“If you are in a store and mention that you can’t find something, he is suddenly on a crusade to ask everyone who looks like they might remotely work in that store if they can help you find said item,” says our friend. “He typically leads off with, ‘Excuse me, ma’am.’”

That’s great, isn’t it? A sweet, friendly, polite young child. Except there is a catch.

Some of the ma’ams are sirs.

That’s right—everyone, regardless of gender, gets the “ma’am” treatment.

“The group that generally takes the most offense are the teenage boys who work at the local grocery store,” she says. “I often wonder if this has to do with the fact they don’t really want to work at the grocery store.”

Luckily, most of the men don’t seem to mind. Our friend stays low-key about it, giving the sirs in question “my ‘sorry’ smile” and gently reminds her son that boys and men are, in fact, called “sir.”

That’s the way to do it—making an embarrassment a teachable moment, not a big deal.

Have a Holding Your Breath moment to share? Contact us on Twitter, Facebook or e-mail us to send in your stories!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Take the theme park to your work

A former Perfectly Polished staff member recently chaperoned a high school trip to a popular theme park. She told us that as a child visiting the same park, she took for granted all the details that made her vacation perfect. But as an adult who is tuned into etiquette, she was more impressed with the park employees.

Here is what she noticed.

• Appearance. Each employee was performance-ready - "Every hair was in place, every shirt tail tucked in,” our friend writes.

• Body language. Employees stood up straight, made eye contact, smiled and spoke in confident voices to every guest, no matter the weather. When giving directions, employees used two fingers to point, a friendlier method than jabbing the air with one finger.

• Cleanliness. It was “impeccably clean,” she said - even leaves were picked up once they hit the cement.

• Attention to individual customers. “Each guest in the park is made to feel special, like they are the most important person, even if just for a quick moment,” she tells us.

Even though these qualities were specific to a theme park, it’s worth noting that any employee at any job should pay attention to these details - how they appear, how they behave, how they treat others. Come to think of it, that’s good advice for everyday living.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Holding Your Breath #2

Have you ever watched a child open a present with baited breath? We have.

Very young children, as you likely know, say what’s on their minds. (Some adults do, too, but hopefully they have more of a brain filter.) But when we’re talking the pre-school set, there’s a 50-50 chance that the unwrapped present will be met with squeals of joy or complete rejection.

A friend of ours tells how her 3-year-old daughter begged for a Pillow Pet - a combination pillow/stuffed animal that is huge right now - last Christmas. She got her ladybug Pillow Pet from her grandmother. Happiness all around.

Cut to a week after Christmas, when a visiting family member gave the child yet another Pillow Pet (a dog one, this time).


“Her reaction was nothing less than embarrassing,” the mom remembers.

The child looked at the gift, declared, “I already have one,” began crying, yelled, “I don’t want it!” and then stormed out of the room.

“I wish she had just said thanks and left it at that,” says the mom.

You can instruct a child to say “thank you” until you’re blue in the face, but that doesn’t mean it always happens! Continue to guide them and it will sink in...and one day, you really will be able to look back and laugh about the Pillow Pet.

Have a Holding Your Breath moment to share? Contact us on Twitter, Facebook or e-mail us to send in your stories!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Holding Your Breath #1

Welcome to Holding Your Breath installment #1! Please don’t really hold your breath — we’re just referring to those moments when adults (especially parents) anxiously watch as children navigate their world, trying to figure out how to treat others.

Sometimes, children surprise us with a burst of nearly unrecognizable good manners. Sometimes, they make us inwardly cringe as they push or shove on the playground or bawl when opening an unwanted present. Sometimes, we have to leave the room so they don’t catch us laughing.

Our first Holding Your Breath comes from a friend of ours, who shares this hilarious story about a little boy she knows.

A few years ago, the child — then 7 years old and described as having “enough energy for four kids” — was at a dinner part with his family. All who knew him actually held their breath when he entered the room, filled with formally-set tables and antiques on display.

No one expected that the child would sneak into the bathroom, soak his hair in the sink and plaster it flat and back (“like a soggy little reject from an old movie,” writes our friend), and return to theatrically offer to pull out a chair and help seat an elderly woman.

He did this for every woman at the table, and later actually bowed while inviting people to dance.

Apparently, his father had been showing him old movies, and the child had deemed these dashing, chivalrous male film stars of yesteryear as “cool.” (Or, “coooooooool,” as he said, we are told.)

It’s a good reminder that children are little sponges (literally, in the case of this sopping-wet-headed child)—they soak up the information we give them. Even the most spirited can internalize good manners, so parents, keep leading by example and have a lot of patience!

Have a Holding Your Breath moment to share? Contact us via Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail us to send in your stories!