Three Magic Words: Things my Mother Taught me
Three Magic Words
Please, thank you, and excuse me,
Three Magical words,
The politeness 'open sesame'
Fly round like sociable birds.
Three Magic Words
Now, in my old age, I often think of some of the things that my Mother taught me. Some were wise, some useful, and some now just make me smile.
When we were children, there always seemed to be so much to learn about etiquette, things such as:
- to remember our manners,
- to wait until spoken to,
- to be polite,
- to wear the right clothes for the occasion.
When I was a teenager, one of my teachers even wrote in my Autograph Book the quotation: 'Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman.'
I could never decide if it was a hint or approbation!
Some of her ideas were fanciful or now outdated, but some were very good and I've tried to pass them on to my own children.
Mother read this somewhere and was keen that we took note:
- The Scottish woman puts her gloves on in the bedroom.
- The English woman just before she goes out the door.
- The Australian woman as she goes down the street.
When visiting, wear clothes that are suitable for your hosts and the occasion, but never dress down too much. People appreciate it that you have made an effort to look nice for them.
Never dress better than your guests.
Brush your clothes and remove lint and tiflings. Good grooming is important.
Wear jackets and overcoats buttoned up when you are walking in the street (my Grandmother).
Make sure the seams on the back of your stockings are straight.
If carrying gloves, rather than wearing them, have the gauntlet pointing away from you.
Always wear your best clothes when going to Church, you are visiting God's House.
Grape Seed Story
The vine in the back yard had done well and for dessert we were having grapes. My sister and I hated the seeds, but Mother insisted we eat them:
"They have lots of oil and other things that are good for you."
I was busily trying to dispose of mine by surreptitiously dropping them onto the dining-room carpet and hoping they would be camouflaged by the pattern.
Suddenly my Grandmother said, "Oh, bother! These grape seeds get stuck under my plate" (meaning her false teeth)!
My four year old sister lifted her plate and said, "That's funny. I have grape seeds under my plate, too!"
There were so many rules to remember about how to behave at the table, but if we were hungry it was best to comply or we might be asked to leave before we had eaten.
- Use the cutlery on the outside first.
- If you are serving at table, give plates to the person's left, drinks to the right. If taking plates away, take from the right.
- If still eating, leave the knife and fork a little apart with the prongs of the fork pointing downwards.
- If you have finished, put the knife and fork together, with the prongs of the fork pointing upwards.
- Never hold your knife like a pencil, it just isn't good manners.
- If you are given a spoon and a dessert fork for the pudding, use them both, but only eat from the spoon.
- Never use the pepper and salt until you have tasted the food. It's not much of a compliment to the cook who may have seasoned it sufficiently for your taste.
- Never leave any food on your plate. There are people in the world who are starving; It also says that you don't like what you have been offered.
- When the meal is finished, never refold your serviette, but leave it beside your plate crumpled - neatly!
- Never leave the table before the host, unless you ask permission: 'Please may I leave the table?' To which a mischievous uncle always replied, "You may eat the food, but please leave the table."
- Always compliment the hostess on the meal, especially if she apologises that it wasn't so good.
Did you have so many rules when you were a child?
Out and About
Never visit empty-handed. Chocolate, flowers or something home-made is usually acceptable.
Make sure that what you give your host is suitable. If she gets hay fever, don't give flowers, if she's diabetic, don't give sweet things.
When alighting from a car, never get out backwards. Swivel in your seat and then step out forwards.
If travelling by public transport always wear a hat and gloves.
Never eat in the street (a school rule, too). The memory of this rule remained. I remember one a hot day when I had our two small girls and was taking them to visit my parents. On the way I bought us ice-creams and who should we meet? My old school Principal. He still remembered my name and was friendly, but I felt so guilty with the ice-cream in my hand.
There were lots of rules about cleanliness, and some were quite sensible, others interesting:
- Always wash your hands before meals and after visiting the lavatory.
- Change your underwear every day.
- Keep your school uniform neat and pressed, but it only gets washed in the term holidays; sponge off any spots.
- Don't shower every day, it's bad for your skin.
- Wash every day, especially your neck and behind your ears.
- Only wash your hair once a week in winter, it keeps the natural oils there.
- In summer always wash your hair after swimming to remove the salt.
- Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
If someone opens a door for you, thank him.
It's more polite to sit with the ankles crossed, than the knees, besides crossed legs leads to varicose veins.
Sit with your skirt down. Cover those knees! (That was my Grandmother).
If someone is speaking, don't break in unless it's an emergency. You might learn something if you keep quiet and listen.
Children should be seen and not heard, especially at mealtime (my Grandmother again).
If you want to have friends you need to be one.
And so Mother's rules continued into adulthood:
- Never let your husband into the bathroom when you're in the bath.
- Certainly keep a joint Bank account, but be sure to have your own private one, too, and don't let him know how much you have in it. If he dies, you will still have money you can access.
- Don't let the sun go down on your wrath. If you've had a quarrel, make up before you go to bed. You'll sleep better.
© 2014 Bronwen Scott-Branagan