The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


Coming to live in Las Vegas I have had to adjust to any number of changes.  For example, I miss the snow and don’t care all that much for the heat.  Being able to play slot machines at your local supermarket, if you so choose, is another.  But perhaps the greatest adjustment affects my driving.

All along the streets, there are usually little printed and sometimes hand-written signs which sit on wire supports and which advertise some good or service.  They’re rather like the old Burma Shave signs except they’re lower to the ground and there isn’t a series of them to convey the message.

We have signs for all sorts of things.  Of course, “Open House” with an arrow is quite a big one.  And “Garage Sale” (or for those who are trying to sound more upscale, “Yard Sale” are others) – although I’ve always wondered where you would park your car if you sold your garage or plant your daisies without a front yard.  I hope to get to the bottom of that.

Then there are the signs for business opportunities, promising riches after you only do ten minutes work (call this number to hear our recorded message).  Those used to be solicitations for MLM “opportunities” but I think that most of those are now internet related.

No, those don’t pique my interest.  I’ve seen them far too many times.

One that did, but only for a moment, said, “New lawyer in town.  Get a divorce – only $399.”  Then, of course, the attorney’s phone number was listed.  I’ve seen these “cut rate divorce” ads before but they advertised $699 (and up) for the same service and appeared on regular billboards.  Apparently, those attorneys have been in town longer and have a bigger practice.  But since I’m not in the market for a divorce, I wasn’t particularly interested in that placard.

The one that did, and I’ve never seen it before, was a small sign with the lettering in both red and black ink which said, “Enroll now in Etiquette School.”  As I drove by it on the way home from the dog park, I nearly ran off the road and into a street lamp.  Imagine, in this day and age someone trying to sell the concept of etiquette?  And imagine, further, someone actually interested in taking them up on their offer.

I didn’t jot down the number but wanted to give them a call.  The following day I took a slightly different route home so I did not pass the sign.  And on the third day, I remembered to take my cell phone with me and had it all ready to add a new contact, but the sign had disappeared.  I’m not sure whether their class was over-subscribed or they had gotten no responses and in frustration decided, instead, to enroll in a cosmetology class so that they could learn the art of doing French nails.

Back in the days when wealthy families dressed in formal attire for dinner; when they assembled together for their evening meal at the lace tablecloth covered dining room table; when the servants brought out the repast and served the meal; when everyone knew which fork was to be used for their fish course and which for their salad; when young Missy discussed what she would wear to her coming out at the Spring Cotillion with Mama; that’s when we had people who were concerned with and knew etiquette.

The rest of us merely had manners.  Those came in two different forms – good and bad.  And I can’t help but think that is actually what this placard was offering to the public – a school in what constitutes good manners.

There is no question that there is a need for this service – and if I had gotten their phone number I would have called if for no other reason than to offer my encouragement and support.  But the absence of good manners today (or perhaps it is the lack of a realization that there is such a thing in God’s wide universe) may be the reason that the sign came down.

As I think about learning good manners, primarily from my family but from my teachers as well, I realize now how important that was and how it made a difference both in the way I feel about myself and how people feel about me.  Most people like me because the training I received as a child taught me to be considerate of others.

Whether it was learning from Mom that after I had blown my nose, the correct place to discard the soiled tissue was in a garbage can – not on the sidewalk; whether it was learning from Grandma that when an elderly or infirm person got on the bus, it was the correct thing to stand up and offer that person my seat; whether it was learning from Dad that it was the polite thing to hold a door open for the person who was just behind us; whether it was learning from my teacher that the reason that there was no talking amongst ourselves in class was because we were there to learn and even if we personally weren’t all that interested – others of our classmates were; these were the foundations in good manners that have served me well for a lifetime.

If you synopsize these little lessons they all come down to the same thing.  That each of us needs to understand that we are part of the universe but that universe does not revolve around us.  That extending courtesy and kindness are not options – they are an essential way of living.  That after learning the words “Mama” and “Papa”, the next three words every child should learn are “Please” and “Thank You.”  And that irrespective of whether the person to whom we extend a helping hand or a kind word acknowledges our actions or reciprocates, we should keep on doing it because it is the right thing to do.

So I’m going to drive around and see if I spot any more signs for “Etiquette School.”  If I do I will certainly call to speak with the folks running it.  They might need someone to help teach some of the classes.  And with the great need for the education they’re offering – I’d be willing to do it for free.


Comments on: "MISS MANNERS" (2)

  1. Yes the older generation had many faults but courtesy was not one of those faults. It would be nice to go back to those positive attributes of yester year.

    • In some sense, courtesy stemmed from the fact that people sustained long-term relationships. You bought from the same hardware store or butcher and it would simply have been too embarassing to do something that betrayed that relationship – and those relationships often lasted not just for years but for generations.

      Today, a “relationship” means having an overnighter with someone – who’s name you don’t remember in the morning. So why make the effort to be courteous when you’ll probably not see the person again. And that sort of thinking carries over to work relationships and friendships as well.

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