Mind Your Ps and Qs

So I’m standing in the Starbucks line, rushing to grab a decaf before my first class, and the family in front of me is holding things up.

Three elementary-school-age monkeys are climbing on their mother, the register and the display case, throwing mom items to purchase, and just as quickly and rudely, swapping for other treats.

“I want this,’ a mop-haired girl announces as she hands a chocolate-covered graham cracker to her mother. “No, wait, I want these chocolates instead!”

The two boys are similarly grabbing, pushing and decreeing what their parent should pay for. “Don’t forget the whipped cream!” the oldest one yells.

It’s always when you’re in a rush, right?

When all is said and done, the mom and her kids move to the end of the counter, to wait for their drinks. None of them thanks the young lady at the register, nor turns to apologize to those in the growing line behind them.

Now, I know I’m going to sound like a cranky old lady (I’m really not that old), but I’m a stickler for manners. They, like compliments, don’t cost a cent, but (like pennies in Canada) seem to be in short supply.

I learned from the best. My mother’s mother demanded thank-you notes when she sent birthday checks or Christmas gifts. In fact, she stopped sending one of my brothers his annual five bucks because he never replied with a word of thanks. (I believe he thought that was a fair trade-off.)

My mom didn’t know the meaning of “helicopter,” and perhaps allowed us to act a bit more “free” and unruly than our friends. Just ask our next-door neighbor, Roy, who on a regular basis, after the inevitable mayhem occurred (another broken toy, a hole in the new blow-up wading pool), would yell, “Alan and Linda, it’s time for you to go home.”

However, I’d like to think we always left with a hurried, “Thanks for having us!”

As soon as my sister Jean could read (she has Down syndrome, so this was no small achievement at age eight), my mother gave her a book entitled What Do You Say, Dear?

Jean and I delighted in the outrageous situations and engaging Maurice Sendak illustrations, which sneakily taught correct manners in social settings:
• You bump into a crocodile on a crowded city street. What do you say, Dear?
• The Queen feeds you so much spaghetti that you don’t fit in your chair anymore? What do you say, Dear?

On the school playground, we all enjoyed a group game called “Mother May I?” which involved penalties for not saying those three words before taking steps towards an endpoint. We all got the point.

I made sure my own kids knew to say “please” and “thank you,” while making direct eye contact, as soon as they could talk. Don’t get me wrong; they are not perfectly behaved young people, but they certainly are polite.

My kids look adults in the eye, give firm handshakes, carry their dishes to the sink and give thanks for meals. I demand they write Thank-You notes for gifts, kind gestures and parties (and I think of my beloved Nana every time).

In fact, I always told my oldest child, who was something of a loose cannon in grade school, that his manners could minimize the damage. He and I both agree that this was borne out on several occasions.

When my kids invite friends to the house, they demand they say hello and good-bye to me, and clean up after themselves. Just this summer, I overheard my 18-year-old tell a friend, who had slipped in through the basement door, “You need to go upstairs and say ‘Hi’ to my mom.” I like to hear “thanks” when they leave, too.

Last week, while I was hosting book club (if you’ve seen the mac ‘n’ cheese commercial, you have a good sense of our meetings), a new friend of my 16-year-old’s came and went without a word. She may have been intimidated by our group, but afterwards, I texted my son, “Don’t let that happen again.”

Perhaps most important, recent studies have shown that gratitude leads to happiness. To see the now-viral video making the rounds on Facebook, click here.)

So, let’s all remember to mind and model our Ps and Qs (a phrase my sister learned from a wonderful teacher who also valued manners). We’ll all be happier for it.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 30 September 2013
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  1. At my son’s first high school parent-teacher conference, three teachers mentioned ” He’s so POLITE!” before they said anything else. (He does your basic Please and Thank you and May I? But that was in stark contrast to the majority,) So sad. Manners are easy to teach, but you have to start when kiddos are babies, and you have to be consistent. Kids get it. And it is one big thing that sets kids apart in job interviews.

  2. Wonderful, very relevant blog! You hit the nail on the head!

  3. I loved “What Do You Say, Dear” so much I found an old copy for my kids. And I loved that video you linked to, thank you–it’s a tear-jerker! What I have to confess I really fall down on are thank-you notes. I’ve done a lousy job of getting my kids to write them! I guess I think they’re more important when someone does something special for you, when they’re unexpected, than for every single gift. But I know most other people don’t agree, so we have to get better at them! I do believe in saying thank-you lots, though, even if it’s a phone call or email rather than a written note. “Please,” “Thank you,” and perhaps most importantly, “I’m sorry” go a very long way in my book! Great column.

    • So cool that you found a copy of that book, Jill. Wish I had thought to do the same when my kids were younger. I agree that the unexpected “thank you” is the best to receive, and also that “sorry” is the most important word to convey. I’ll probably blog about that word before long. Thanks for your continued readership and for taking the time to comment.

  4. erika callahan says:

    Amen sister!! I couldn’t have said it better. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to observe those around you, be considerate and say thank you!!

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