There’s a story that I’ve heard many times as Etiquette Mavens often like to refer to it: years ago, at some sort of offical state dinner that was some place that is not England, a guest picked up their bowl of soup and started sipping. As some stared in shock, some tittered, others waited to see what would happen next…which is that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England picked up her bowl and began to sip.
This story works on several different levels, obviously, once one really starts to think about it–but the meaning the Etiquette Mavens embrace is that there was the potential for embarrassment over the guest’s bad manners, but that the Queen graciously saved the day. There is also the possibility that the guest was simply eating soup the way they’d been raised to do so and that the Queen understood that those were perfectly valid manners for that guest and chose to emulate them–whichever way, the point was that the moment was not about finger-pointing, correcting or eye-rolling, it was about making everyone feeling comfortable. That is graciousness–usually labelled as the ability to make people feel comfortable, but I think just as equally is the ability to not give in to the urge to make people feel bad.
Yes, someone has made me feel bad today! How did you guess? It was a small moment–I have an application to hand into a school today with the hopes of getting one of my kids in to a special arts program/school this September. My mind can sometimes turn to mush and even though I’ve read something over and over again, my brain will suddenly pop up with random information and insert that. So it was today–I had completely and utterly “remembered” that the applications had to be handed in between “11am and 4pm”.**
I turned up at the school after considerable running around. The application had needed a bit of input from the child who is reluctant to write things (he has a lot of difficulties due to a recently diagnosed learning disability). I needed a stamped self-addressed envelope and in this day and age, I rarely mail things…or use letter-sized envelopes. And I needed to get cash for the $25 registration fee. (Why the school charges a registration fee for it’s program, I know not–isn’t that like a pizza delivery guy expecting tips? I’ve never understood that either–and I worked at a pizza restaurant! Given that, if the child gets in, we will be paying $350.00 in yearly fees for “supplies”, the registration fee just seems…rude, somehow!)
So, there I was at 1:30pm at the school–which looked oddly quiet for a school expecting a line of parents and children. I went into the office and waited patiently for the secretary to finish a conversation so I could ask where to go to hand in the application. She quirked an eyebrow at me, “Is that the application that is to be handed in between 3pm and 7pm today?”
Said I, glancing at the same clock she had just looked at pointedly, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought it was 11-4pm!”
“No. No it was not.”
“I’m very sorry.”
And that was that. No smile, no polite greeting. No “see you later!” No anything. If it had been the other way around, I would have said, “Oh, gosh I’m sorry–we’re not accepting those until after 3pm. You’ll have until 7 tonight!” But, I was raised to understand that a) I’m not better than everyone in the room, and b) even if by some strange remote chance it would turn out that I am…a polite person still treats a person with kindness and respect.
A small moment out of my day…but a disappointing one. I’m sorry for her that she needed to have that moment in her day. And eventually I will get past imagining all the comebacks I could have made if I had as little manners.
**having finally had the thought to look at the application and try and figure out where the times came from…it turns out that I’m not actually crazy. The applications were to be in today in order to be immediately assigned audition times; otherwise the staff would be accepting them tomorrow, Friday February 18 between 11am and 4pm.