one is about to see the Queen of Etiquette, even riding an elevator
can become a matter of propriety. Which floor? Oops, I
mean, may I push the button for your desired floor? said
the woman who found herself by the controls. I suppose
thats how Miss Manners would say it.
Judith Martin spoke at the Michael C. Carlos Museum in January
on Star Spangled Manners, it gave pause to those
gathered in the reception hall to hear her.
bunching your coat under your chair the correct way to uncloak?
Should an introduction be made before asking a question? And
had everyone remembered to turn off their cell phones? (Unfortunately,
Gentle Reader, everyone had not.)
the host of the event, Professor of Anthropology Bradd Shore
reassured the murmuring crowd that Martin was not merely a contemporary
Emily Post or a walking rulebook.
of simply providing a guide for which fork to use at dinner,
Martin teaches us how to move through our daily encounters
with grace by keeping alive the sacred rites of social engagement,
says Shore, who invited the syndicated columnist to Emory to
speak as part of the Center on Myth and Ritual in American Life
(MARIAL) colloquium series.
gray hair pulled into her trademark bun, smiled tolerantly.
You study the rituals, she replied. I have
to try to keep them respectable!
crowning herself Miss Manners in 1978, Martin has seen fit to
do just that through her column, which is printed weekly in
more than two hundred papers in the United States and abroad,
as well as on the Internet. A graduate of Wellesley College
who spent twenty-five years as a writer and critic at The Washington
Post, Martin also has authored several best-selling books, including
her latest, Star-Spangled Manners: In which Miss Manners Defends
American Etiquette (For a Change).
her jabs at Americas laid-back attitude (she calls casual
Fridays our national costume party,) Martin admits
to a certain fondness for American manners, which were born
of revolution. Driven by our dreams of equality for all
and stardom for each, we . . . have always been eager to test
the standards of social behavior and create our own rules for
interaction, she writes.
finds constant inspiration in a society that relishes freedom
of expression so much that it relies on etiquette, rather than
law, to restrain people from openly insulting its leaders, shouting
awful things at crowds, wearing vulgar clothes in public, and
stomping on its flag.
for the argument that etiquette restricts freedom, Miss Manner
would agree wholeheartedly. Of course, she says.
Thats the idea. There is always a trade-off between
the rights of the individual and the rights of the community.
far as we know, she said, the intention was not
to create a country that was perfectly free and perfectly unbearable.
the code of civility: a voluntary system of politeness that
restrains bad behavior. Its weapon? Social disapproval.
and even condemning others for inappropriate actions or comments,
says Martin, is often necessary as a tool for social change.
Because it is no longer acceptable to make bigoted or sexist
statements in public, bigotry and sexism hasfor the most
partbeen banished from civil discourse. If speakers choose
to ignore this rule of etiquette, they do so at their peril.
believe we saw a recent example of that, Martin said,
alluding to the Trent Lott debacle.
a world terrorized by acts of violence large and small, people
are searching for a way to live together in tolerance and respect.
says Martin, compensates for our failure to love one another.M.J.L.