Etiquette, according to Donna Paige Riley, a socialization expert, author, etiquette teacher, speaker and radio program host, is not just about learning which fork to use.
“It’s about having consideration for others in everything you do,” she said.
“People today can be very self-centered, and that selfishness is the root of bad manners. It goes back to the Golden Rule—treat others the way you would like to be treated.”
She described etiquette as a “soft skill,” but said it’s very important in both social and business settings. “The word etiquette comes from an old French word meaning ‘ticket.’ Good manner really are our ticket to better relationships,” Riley, a Stone Mountain resident, said.
Good manners, she said, are for everyone. “White collar, blue collar or no collar, good manners make a difference,” she said. “It’s best to learn proper manners when you’re young. They become automatic—part of who you are.”
Starting July 11, Riley is teaching a four-week children’s course at Northlake Mall, called Manners are Fun! She described the one-and-a-half-hour sessions as “fun and interactive workshops in which students will develop their self-confidence by learning communication skills, telephone manners, formal place settings, table manners, appropriate meal conversation, personal hygiene and grooming, as well as posture and poise.” Children 5 through 11 will be taught in one class and children 12 and older will be in a separate class. Each student receives an autographed copy of Riley’s book What is Etiquette Anyway?
“It’s not a lecture format at all. It’s fun. When people have fun as they’re learning, they tend to remember more of what they have learned,” Riley said.
“Children really get into this,” she said. “They become the etiquette police at home. They tell their friends, siblings and even their parents the proper thing to do. I had a mother call me and ask me to please explain to her daughter that it’s not necessary to set a formal table for dinner every evening. We agreed that she would do that only for Sunday dinner.”
Riley said she hopes her classes will spur a trend toward good manners. “We see rudeness everywhere these days. Many people see it as acceptable behavior even among those who are in the customer service business. Simple things like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are falling by the wayside.”
Some parents are surprised to learn that good manners lead to higher self-esteem, Riley said. “It may appear that the child who is rude and inappropriately assertive has strong self-esteem, but that’s not the case.
It’s actually the person who knows how to behave in any situation who has poise and confidence.”
Riley said she doesn’t hesitate to say something when she sees a child behaving badly in public. “I hear children saying all sorts of disrespectful things, even cursing in public. I go up to them and say, ‘I know I didn’t hear you say what I thought you said.’ At least they know that someone found their behavior unacceptable.”
Parents of earlier generations taught good manners as a life skill, Riley observed. “Today many are too busy or they never learned good manners themselves.” She said her mother was her role model. “She was tough on us. She insisted that I always be a lady. My mother made sure we never left the house without being properly dressed and knowing how we were to behave wherever we were going,” she said.
She said entertainment media is having a negative impact on social behavior. “Many television shows derive their humor from people saying harsh, rude things to one another. Many so-called reality shows send the message that bold insulting remarks are the best way to get a point across. Children may get the idea that being well-mannered is being fake or nerdy.
It’s not a matter of trying to be better than those around you. Proper etiquette makes every interaction more pleasant. They make people like being around you. We have to teach children that good manners are not just acceptable, but they’re crucial.”
For fees, schedules and other information on the Northlake classes, call (770) 938-3564 or visit www.northlakemall.com.