Growing up, I was pushed to read advice on manners from Edith Head.
- I know the difference between a ham and tomato fork.
- I know the proper time to put your napkin in your lap when dining.
- I know the difference between a champagne flute, a red wine glass, a white wine glass, a brandy sniffer, sherry glass, etc.
- I know that ladies are to sit with their knees together and ankles crossed, and a gentleman never sits down at a table first with a lady present.
Grand wanted to be money. Grand wanted status and prestige. Grand opted to marry for love, spent their entire life just scraping by and resenting their spouse and four children for not being more. There was an unspoken law that I, as Grand’s do-over, was somehow supposed to rectify that in a manner to which they planned to become accustomed.
Grand resented the sister who married for love and got both love and money. They didn’t speak for many years because of it. If her sister wanted to share vacation pictures, she was “rubbing it in my face,” according to Grand. Grand was not the type of person who could be happy for anyone doing better than they were.
Grand resented there were no “coming out” parties for their two daughters. They could never be “debs.” My aunt, the eldest daughter, who thinks eerily the same as Grand and will bite the head off anyone who suggests it, probably still resents never being a “deb” too.
When I was little, I thought manners were essential to establish a set of rules in civility in dealing with other people. A way to properly make someone feel welcome and regarded. The strict rules were there to ensure no one was misunderstood or took offense. Boy, was I deluded…
The older I got, the more I came to realize that with Grand and most who preached etiquette, they had no sense of humanity. They might know the right things to do and made all the motions, but with smirks and sidelong glances to one another to assure themselves of their own superiority. Kind words so dripping with honey, you just knew it was laced with poison.
In the South, old money is the best, new money gets you in the door, fuck up your salad and dinner fork or have the audacity to tuck your napkin in your shirt collar and you’re done.
Etiquette was simply a weapon with which to ostracize those deemed “lesser” from their lack of knowledge of its rules. If you dared to drink out of your finger bowl or not realize how to use a shrimp fork, you were considered garbage. Put that pinky up with your tea and you may as well be a street walker.
The older I got, the more I pushed away from Grand and their philosophies on life. Most of them just felt dark and ugly. I was terribly slow about rebelling against Grand, and it would be in subtle ways that made it hard to punish.
I hit my teens just as the Grunge era was becoming big across the rest of the US. Men and women wore pretty much the same thing, tights, flannel, lots of oversized shirts, ripped jeans and shorts, skirts and kilts. I shaved the back of my head, let the rest grow longer, dyed it a new color every week. It was easier to ask forgiveness than permission, but I was getting to a point I asked for neither.
Damn, I still miss the clothes!
Grand networked for status, or tried to. If Grand didn’t have money to break into the society, at least they would have the impression of having had money. I was forced into dinners with people as artificial as Grand while they fake-smiled the shit out each other and lied about their own importance. I often asked embarrassing questions, or made remarks cutting down whatever farce Grand was trying to sell. At first it was unconscious then migrated to scathingly intentional. I chewed with my mouth open. If it was seafood, I demanded a mallet. I blew my nose at the table, picked my teeth with my fork. Edith Head and Grand both could shove it up their asses.
I was never allowed in the living room growing up, and later only for functional purposes (i.e. cleaning). It was separate from the den and was strictly for welcoming and entertaining “special guests.” Grand was quite proud of this room and only allowed those most valuable to stay in it for any length.
Occasionally, Grand wanted someone to brag on and being the only kin in the house, I was drug out to meet whoever it was Grand wanted to impress. I was overall a good student with a promising art skill and penchant for foreign exchange trips. However, I was especially fond of sporting a mini-skirt with some loud boxers during these introductions, I would intentionally sit in such a way both Grand and the guest were in full view of some serious manspreading. Most of the smirks at this point were all mine. Grand would chew me out later and I would feign ignorance.
I don’t know if Grand ever really caught on to why I would ace every pop quiz I was given over the identification of every utensil in the silver chest, as well as its placement and then turn around and behave as though none of it stuck, but just sometimes. All I do know is… the times I was requested to be the dancing monkey on the grind box finally stopped.
I think there should be common courtesy, and I will scold Spawn when I hear them smacking when they chew or their jaw is making wider rotations than a cow. I think basic manners are important. However, the person who uses them as a method of exclusion will always be trashiest of all.