Etiquette: Helping Traverse the Road from Boyhood to Manhood

Story by Amy Stamper Rainer and Photos by Harry Long

I just adore being a southern girl. I love long summer evenings on a porch sipping cocktails with a girlfriend. I love strong friendships and sentimentality. I love that I’m well into my 40’s, and I still use the terms “mama” and “daddy.” I love shopping at the Piggly Wiggly and that a trip to the grocery store can be a social event. Some of my very favorite things (in no particular order) include seersucker, iced tea, my grandmother’s jewelry, cream cheese and cucumber finger sandwiches, my mother in law’s silver, Lilly Pulitzer, fresh sliced peaches, and sweaty little boys.  

Wait. Did you read that correctly? Sweaty little boys?  

I’m afraid you did.  

One of my favorite things about my life in the South is my opportunity to work with sweaty little boys. You see, boys can play hard, sweat profusely, and elicit some of the strangest noises known to mankind, but they are the ones who will grow up to be the gentlemen of tomorrow.  

For over 15 years I have taught etiquette classes to precious, eager to please girls. We’ve donned Lilly Pulitzer, worn special jewelry, and even eaten finger sandwiches at country club tea parties. And that is LOVELY! It is right up my alley! In my classes, I’ve reminded little ladies that a gentleman will open the door for a lady, that he will remain standing until a lady is seated at the table, and that he will always walk on the street side of the sidewalk. I vividly remember one of those precocious little girls  raising her hand and asking me, “Well…who is telling this to the boys???”  

 Great question.  

After I retired from my position as a classroom teacher, I pondered her question and realized that I might as well try to help reinforce what all of these boy mamas are telling their little gentlemen. It always helps to hear someone else echo what dear old mom says, doesn’t it?  I spent a summer writing a curriculum called “Southern Gentlemen” and decided to add a boy’s etiquette class to my program and give it a whirl. I was blown away! These boys were eager to learn! They felt empowered! They came back each week telling me that they had practiced some of the things we’d talked about and that their mothers and grandmothers were taking notice and doing back flips! And at the end of our three-week session together, I even had boys tell me that it “wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be” and they “hoped I’d do another class soon.” Seriously. These comments were from the boys. Not their mothers and not their grandmothers, but from the boys. Sweaty little boys.  

They were becoming gentlemen. I quickly learned that these boys have seen their daddies fill this role but might not have realized that there was room in the house for more than one gentleman. There were things that they could incorporate into their daily lives that would help transition them from a boy to a man. They felt empowered as they realized they now possess tools that enable them to step into that position.  During our classes we talk, we work in groups, we role play, and we laugh. A lot. The boys start to exercise behaviors that they’ve never or seldom used. They may feel awkward at first, but as they practice in a room full of peers, they get a little more comfortable. My hope is that, with consistent practice, these behaviors will become habits.  

One of my favorite lessons to teach is the table manners lesson. We focus on how to properly hold each utensil, proper cutting techniques, use of each utensil, appropriate table conversation, and courtesy to servers. While it’s always important to remember that your napkin goes in your lap, to pass the salt and pepper together, and to place your utensils in the “finished position” at the end of a meal, I realized that there were a few extra things I needed to convey. I decided to take the “shoot straight from the hip” approach. If you’ve got a “sweaty little boy” in your world, feel free to pass along a tip or two…  

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Table Manners. Plain and Simple.  

1. Remember The Hunchback of Notre Dame? You’re NOT him.  Sit up straight at the table and don’t hunch over your plate.  

2. Don’t cram too much food in your mouth. You could choke (plus…it just looks nasty.) Slow down and take smaller bites. Your food isn’t going anywhere!  

3. Nobody wants to watch you chew up your food (this goes for hearing it too!) Chew with your mouth closed and don’t talk with your mouth full.  

4. Use a filter if you have thoughts about what is being served and keep your thoughts to yourself. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings with your rude comments or facial expressions.  

5. Don’t gobble down your food. Wait about 5 seconds after you swallow before preparing another bite. Someone took time to prepare your food…show that you appreciate that by taking time to enjoy it.  

6. When you are eating a meal at someone’s home (or even at your OWN home), always thank the host and let them know how much you enjoyed it. While you are eating, try to think of a specific item that you are enjoying and give your “compliments to the chef.” Again, someone spent time and energy to prepare a meal for you. Be sure to show them that you are grateful! 

So, my goal in teaching these little boys is simple. To empower them to walk from boyhood to manhood with confidence, to embrace their position as a southern gentleman and to feel comfortable being there. Because being comfortable in our position is a great place to be.  

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