We must ask ourselves, in this age of constantly evolving newest, latest and greatest information: Are old fashioned manners out of fashion? Has 24 hour Cable News TV taken us into a reality of fighting, fortunetelling and fear mongering? Has unreal Reality TV taken us away from forming our own realities in our own lives? America has traditionally been the "firstest and bestest" in everything we do. Yet, America is not going through a Renaissance right now. However, one fact never changes: Manners take you everywhere.
Americans can become the most beautifully educated people on the planet. We can all go to College and University, but can we go out to dinner without embarrassing ourselves? Are our parents and schools teaching the number one manners rule, which is: Leaders always make others feel special. Leaders never embarrass others. Leaders always anticipate the other person's next need.
Has America become a Godless, reckless, lawless, and feckless, uncivil society? Will the unique entrepreneurial spirit of our nation, our "Rule of Law" and our rules of etiquette continue to set us apart from every other country in the world? In any society, the manners pendulum swings along with the social, political and moral pendulums, and as any piano lesson, the pendulum swings back and forth, left to right.
As time moves farther away from the opulent Golden Age and strict, formal Victorian manners, our daily behaviors become more relaxed as our casual lives grow busier and more complicated. I was once told by a Victorian raised, very socially prominent 'Grand Dame': "A 'toe-mat-toe" is worth 1/2 a penny more than a tomato." However, does this saying still ring true? Is this saying even applicable in today's society.
No more do we have to keep up with Pickle Forks, Oyster Forks, Fish Forks, Olive Forks, Lemon Forks, Pastry Forks, Sweetmeat Forks, and Ice Cream Forks. As John Loring, the man who compiles all those Tiffany and Company coffee table books, says: "Thank goodness Tiffany and Co. does not have to keep up with manufacturing and stocking these 100 + different opulent serving pieces and accoutrements any longer."
These days, there exists an entire new generation of teenagers that do not know how to hold their forks. They have been raised eating french fries and chicken fingers with their fingers in the car on the way to supervised after school and weekend activities such as band practice, soccer practice or dance class. However, this generation of kids are technology savvy. They can Skype and place photos on Face book from their phones in seconds. My 4 year old grandson who could not yet read, showed me how to use the "skip" button on the clicker to skip through the "Previews" before watching a DVD movie.
This teenage generation also has friends at school, as shown on their Face book pages, of all different ethnicity, race and religion from all over the world. They think nothing of these 21st Century international immigrants from far lands. They judge their friends by how good they are as people. This fresh, new generation of young people are neither better off, nor worse off, they are just different.
My 15 year old Nephew calls my husband and myself by the traditional titles: Aunt Kathy and Uncle Jim. However, he calls his best friends' parents by their first names as requested by these parents. Otherwise, he answers: "Yes, Mrs. Jones." As shocking as this may sound to most Southerners, the phrases "Mam" and "Sir" smack back to a certain time of servitude in the old South, and this time of servants and domestic help is over. The younger generation can just as easily say: "Yes, Mrs. Jones" and "No, Mr. Smith" rather than "Yes, Mam" or "No, Sir." Respect of proper titles to the adult is still shown. The language is just different.
Weddings are now different. No longer does the little hometown girl marry the little hometown boy the week after graduating High School or College. Technology, and the ease of travel have made commuter relationships possible. Couples now post their wedding stories, photos, gift giving information, and directions on line, on their own websites! Very convenient for ordering gifts, and the out of town guests attending the wedding. Yes, the gift registry is listed, but no longer do guests have to telephone the Mother of the Bride to ask where the Bride is registered.
Party invitations and RSVP's are also different. Party invitations are still sent out by snail mail, but also may be sent out by E-mail. The R.s.v.p. can be phoned in or conveniently answered on e-mail. As Richmond is so traditional, I still receive a few wedding invitations every Summer that require a hand written response, so I write my response, but I must say the pre-stamped envelope and matching card to check and place in the mail is quick and convenient. Yes, knowing how to write a response to a wedding is nice, but is it still important in society? Is this skill worth 1/2 a penny more than sending a pre-made card in the mail?
Entertaining is also different. Often, the Host and Hostess do all the preparation, cooking, serving, and clean up for parties. Technology and relatively inexpensive prepared foods have made entertaining easier for the hosts. Savvy guests help hang up coats, help in the set up or clean up and may even help park cars!
Stemware and Fine China usage is also different. The large Victorian Iced Tea glass used for only Iced Tea during the opulent Victorian age is now sold on gift registries as a Water Goblet. The large Water Goblet is now used as a Wine Goblet. The smaller Wine Claret is not used much any longer, and the Champagne Flute has now replaced the Champagne Saucer. Many Dinner plates are now 10" -12" large. They also double as Buffet, Charger or Service Plates.
Salad Plates now also double as Dessert Plates. Bread and Butter Plates, if even ordered by the Bride, double as Dessert Plates.
Mugs have replaced the Cup and Saucer. Rimmed Soup Bowls have replaced the double handled, hand honed Cream Soup Bowls and Plate. Neither are better nor worse, just different.
By living less formally, does this mean the younger generations have to be less kind, less thoughtful, less patient? No it does not.
Families must maintain the responsibilities of parenting and teaching their children general respect.
The best thing we can do as a society is to remember, teach, listen and have faith in God. Remember the fallen as they have kept us free. Remember our friends and families. Remember our relatives who have passed. Listening to the life stories of wise women and men, their life celebrations and struggles, is the greatest gift that can be given to the young. One fact remains: Change is neither better nor worse, it's just different.