Saturday, May 15, 2010

Manners in French St. Martin - Not Wrong, Just Different

Adults at cocktail and dinner parties, students in tutorials, and attendees at lectures often ask me, if a particular manner is right or wrong, and how only one particular way of doing one thing is the only and always correct way, n'est-ce pas? My usual answer is: "It is not right or wrong, it is just different."

An example is American style vs. Continental style dining. One may eat in the "Continental Style" in America, and it is not wrong, it is just different. As a matter of fact, eating in the Continental style is how Americans ate in this country before 1840 when the style changed. Continental style is also very easy for left handed diners. I have been surrounded by lefties my whole life. My Mother used to complain about getting SO frustrated at dinner parties from people bumping her left arm while eating at the table because they were sticking their elbows out too far, and it never occurred to them someone would be eating with their left hand. Awareness and open-mindedness, y'all. It's simple.

While in St. Martin, reading the local daily paper "The Herald," I stumbled upon a delightful column called "Weekend Thoughts." The subject was "American Style" dining and how it was different from the way the French author of the column ate. She spoke of her American friend who ate in the American style while in the French Caribbean and how it was so different from the Continental Style way she was taught to eat. She commented at the end of her article: "It opens up a new world to me."

So, please be open-minded to differences in us all. Manners are not always either/or. Manners are not always yes or no. Manners are often just different!