Would you please pass the grain of salt?

manners6Does the NYT publish stories, such as this one about providing “etiquette” lessons for upper-middle-class children, purely to provide fodder for the eye-rolling among us? It’s hard to come to any other conclusion, given the highly mockable content.

Obviously as a cranky and childless old queen, I have no experience with and therefore plenty of insight into the raising of children (to quote Fran Lebowitz, I am “familiar with reproduction only insofar as it applies to a too-recently-fabricated Louis XV armoire…”) – and I will say this: I have no issue with the idea of etiquette lessons for children. While the larger purpose of etiquette (or more precisely, good manners) is to be respectful of others and to do what you can to put others at ease, there are certainly a variety of helpful rules surrounding the use of eating utensils  or the writing of thank-you notes, for example, that go a long way to rounding out the education of any child.

But what is apparently being taught to these children (and for a pretty penny, I might add) is simply how to behave themselves with a bare minimum of restraint – which is far different than “etiquette.” Now, I could go on and on about what the hell do these parents expect when they keep the TV on during dinner. And  think that it’s AOK to ignore those around them in favor of texting some inconsequential message composed of indecipherable acronyms and emoticons. And that paying a few hundred bucks to some self-professed (and, I’m guessing here, not especially qualified) “expert” with a penchant for groan-inducing wordplay (“Etiquette Manor”? Just no.) to spend a couple of hours teaching your kids that it’s impolite to scream and yell in the middle of a restaurant. And that none of this is a substitute for a parent teaching through both instruction and example that different situations require different behavior. And I guess to some extent I already have.

Instead, I’d just like to call out a couple of the gems served up by these “experts.”

“These days, you have to teach kids about return on investment,” said Robin Wells, the founder of Etiquette Manor in Coral Gables, Fla [ed.: Florida. Of course]… So, even as she imparts lessons about using forks and the importance of looking the waiter in the eye, she does so by framing the lessons in a constructively selfish way for the children.

Yes, that’s perfect. Don’t be polite or respectful or gracious because it’s appropriate or kind or a way of making others feel at ease. Do it for the “return on investment.” Seriously, parents, please steer clear of any expert who talks about ROI to your kids – they are not helping. And I guess “constructively selfish” is better than plain old “selfish”? Yeah, I’m not buying that either.

When it comes to children, she said, long gone are the days when you could tell them that they have to behave a certain way “just because.”

Incorrect. I have verified this very fact with people who are actually raising children. And by “verified”, I mean I have speculated about the responses of my friends who are parents.

“Say the words ‘manners’ or ‘etiquette’ to kids these days, and they run the other direction,” (Faye de Muyshondt, the founder of Socialsklz) said. She prefers teaching the children that they are “building the brand called ‘you.’ ”

No. NO. N-O.  Do not ever teach children that they are “building the brand called ‘you’” – the likely result will be your very own little Patrick (or Patricia) Bateman. Or, even worse, a child who grows up and willingly chooses to pursue a career in marketing.

Also? If someone names their etiquette learnin’ company “Socialsklz,” that should tell you just about everything you need to know about this person’s actual grasp of the subject matter.

The only person in the article who comes off reasonably well is one Joseph Kowal, owner of Chenery Park restaurant here in SF, where there is a weekly “family night” and children are expected to comport themselves with some civility.

He recalled one child who wouldn’t settle down, and he threatened to tape the child’s mouth. The child told him to go ahead and try.

“I went to my office, got some blue painter’s tape, came back and ripped a piece off,” he said. The kid piped down.

Now that is a teachable moment.

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