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!