I told you I was on a rant with my class and the Multiverse about the loss of respect and good manners. So more from Emily Post on things such as these….Namaste, The Queen Cronista…
Emily Post on Conversation:
The Gift Of Humor
The joy of joys is the person of light but unmalicious humor. If you know any one who is gay, beguiling and amusing, you will, if you are wise, do everything you can to make him prefer your house and your table to any other; for where he is, the successful party is also. What he says is of no matter, it is the twist he gives to it, the intonation, the personality he puts into his quip or retort or observation that delights his hearers, and in his case the ordinary rules do not apply.
Eugene Field could tell a group of people that it had rained to-day and would probably rain to-morrow, and make everyone burst into laughter—or tears if he chose—according to the way it was said. But the ordinary rest of us must, if we would be thought sympathetic, intelligent or agreeable, “go fishing.”
Going Fishing For Topics
The charming talker is neither more nor less than a fisherman. (Fisher woman rather, since in America women make more effort to be agreeable than men do.) Sitting next to a stranger she wonders which “fly” she had better choose to interest him. She offers one topic; not much of a nibble. So she tries another or perhaps a third before he “rises” to the bait.
The Door Slammers
There are people whose idea of conversation is contradiction and flat statement. Finding yourself next to one of these, you venture:
“Have you seen any good plays lately?”
“No, hate the theater.”
“Which team are you for in the series?”
“Country must have a good many idiots!” mockingly.
“Obviously it has.” Full stop. In desperation you veer to the personal.
“I’ve never seen Mrs. Bobo Gilding as beautiful as she is to-night.”
“Nothing beautiful about her. As for the name ‘Bobo,’ it’s asinine.”
“Oh, it’s just one of those children’s names that stick sometimes for life.”
“Perfect rot. Ought to be called by his name,” etc.
Another, not very different in type though different in method, is the self-appointed instructor whose proper place is on the lecture platform, not at a dinner table.
“The earliest coins struck in the Peloponnesus were stamped on one side only; their alloy——” etc.
Another is the expounder of the obvious: “Have you ever noticed,” says he, deeply thinking, “how people’s tastes differ?”
Then there is the vulgarian of fulsome compliment: “Why are you so beautiful? It is not fair to the others——” and so on.
Tactless people are also legion. The means-to-be-agreeable elderly man says to a passée acquaintance, “Twenty years ago you were the prettiest woman in town”; or in the pleasantest tone of voice to one whose only son has married. “Why is it, do you suppose, that young wives always dislike their mothers-in-law?”
If you have any ambition to be sought after in society you must not talk about the unattractiveness of old age to the elderly, about the joys of dancing and skating to the lame, or about the advantages of ancestry to the self-made. It is also dangerous, as well as needlessly unkind, to ridicule or criticize others, especially for what they can’t help. If a young woman’s familiar or otherwise lax behavior deserves censure, a casual unflattering remark may not add to your own popularity if your listener is a relative, but you can at least, without being shamefaced, stand by your guns. On the other hand to say needlessly “What an ugly girl!” or “What a half-wit that boy is!” can be of no value except in drawing attention to your own tactlessness.
The young girl who admired her own facile adjectives said to a casual acquaintance: “How can you go about with that moth-eaten, squint-eyed, bag of a girl!” “Because,” answered the youth whom she had intended to dazzle, “the lady of your flattering epithets happens to be my sister.”
It is scarcely necessary to say that one whose tactless remarks ride rough-shod over the feelings of others, is not welcomed by many.
A bore is said to be “one who talks about himself when you want to talk about yourself!” which is superficially true enough, but a bore might more accurately be described as one who is interested in what does not interest you, and insists that you share his enthusiasm, in spite of your disinclination. To the bore life holds no dullness; every subject is of unending delight. A story told for the thousandth time has not lost its thrill; every tiresome detail is held up and turned about as a morsel of delectableness; to him each pea in a pod differs from another with the entrancing variety that artists find in tropical sunsets.
On the other hand, to be bored is a bad habit, and one only too easy to fall into. As a matter of fact, it is impossible, almost, to meet anyone who has not something of interest to tell you if you are but clever enough yourself to find out what it is. There are certain always delightful people who refuse to be bored. Their attitude is that no subject need ever be utterly uninteresting, so long as it is discussed for the first time. Repetition alone is deadly dull. Besides, what is the matter with trying to be agreeable yourself? Not too agreeable. Alas! it is true: “Be polite to bores and so shall you have bores always round about you.” Furthermore, there is no reason why you should be bored when you can be otherwise. But if you find yourself sitting in the hedgerow with nothing but weeds, there is no reason for shutting your eyes and seeing nothing, instead of finding what beauty you may in the weeds. To put it cynically, life is too short to waste it in drawing blanks. Therefore, it is up to you to find as many pictures to put on your blank pages as possible.
A Few Important Details Of Speech In Conversation
Unless you wish to stamp yourself a person who has never been out of “provincial” society, never speak of your husband as “Mr.” except to an inferior. Mrs. Worldly for instance in talking with a stranger would say “my husband,” and to a friend, meaning one not only whom she calls by her first name, but anyone on her “dinner list,” she says, “Dick thought the play amusing” or “Dick said——”. This does not give her listener the privilege of calling him “Dick.” The listener in return speaks of her own husband as “Tom” even if he is seventy—unless her hearer is a very young person (either man or woman), when she would say “my husband.” Never “Mr. Older.” To call your husband Mr. means that you consider the person you are talking to, beneath you in station. Mr. Worldly in the same way speaks of Mrs. Worldly as “my wife” to a gentleman, or “Edith” in speaking to a lady. Always.
In speaking about other people, one says “Mrs.,” “Miss” or “Mr.” as the case may be. It is bad form to go about saying “Edith Worldly” or “Ethel Norman” to those who do not call them Edith or Ethel, and to speak thus familiarly of one whom you do not call by her first name, is unforgivable. It is also effrontery for a younger person to call an older by her or his first name, without being asked to do so. Only a very underbred, thick-skinned person would attempt it.
Also you must not take your conversation “out of the drawing-room.” Operations, ills or personal blemishes, details and appurtenances of the dressing-room, for instance, are neither suitable nor pleasant topics, nor are personal jokes in good taste.##
The “Omniscience” Of The Very Rich
Why a man, because he has millions, should assume that they confer omniscience in all branches of knowledge, is something which may be left to the psychologist to answer, but most of those thrown much in contact with millionaires will agree that an attitude of infallibility is typical of a fair majority.
A professor who has devoted his life to a subject modestly makes a statement. “You are all wrong,” says the man of millions, “It is this way——”. As a connoisseur he seems to think that because he can pay for anything he fancies, he is accredited expert as well as potential owner. Topics he does not care for are “bosh,” those which he has a smattering of, he simply appropriates; his prejudices are, in his opinion, expert criticism; his taste impeccable; his judgment infallible; and to him the world is a pleasance built for his sole pleasuring. But to the rest of us who also have to live in it with as much harmony as we can, such persons are certainly elephants at large in the garden. We can sometimes induce them to pass through gently, but they are just as likely at any moment to pull up our fences and push the house itself over on our defenseless heads.
There are countless others of course, very often the richest of all, who are authoritative in all they profess, who are experts and connoisseurs, who are human and helpful and above everything respecters of the garden enclosure of others.
Dangers To Be Avoided
In conversation the dangers are very much the same as those to be avoided in writing letters. Talk about things which you think will be agreeable to your hearer. Don’t dilate on ills, misfortune, or other unpleasantnesses. The one in greatest danger of making enemies is the man or woman of brilliant wit. If sharp, wit is apt to produce a feeling of mistrust even while it stimulates. Furthermore the applause which follows every witty sally becomes in time breath to the nostrils, and perfectly well-intentioned, people, who mean to say nothing unkind, in the flash of a second “see a point,” and in the next second, score it with no more power to resist than a drug addict can resist a dose put into his hand!
The mimic is a joy to his present company, but the eccentric mannerism of one is much easier to imitate than the charm of another, and the subjects of the habitual mimic are all too apt to become his enemies.
You need not, however, be dull because you refrain from the rank habit of a critical attitude, which like a weed will grow all over the place if you let it have half a chance. A very good resolve to make and keep, if you would also keep any friends you make, is never to speak of anyone without, in imagination, having them overhear what you say. One often hears the exclamation “I would say it to her face!” At least be very sure that this is true, and not a braggart’s phrase and then—nine times out of ten think better of it and refrain. Preaching is all very well in a text-book, schoolroom or pulpit, but it has no place in society. Society is supposed to be a pleasant place; telling people disagreeable things to their faces or behind their backs is not a pleasant occupation.
Do not be too apparently clever if you would be popular. The cleverest woman is she who, in talking to a man, makes him seem clever. This was Mme. Recamier’s great charm.
A Few Maxims For Those Who Talk Too Much—And Easily!
The faults of commission are far more serious than those of omission; regrets are seldom for what you left unsaid.
The chatterer reveals every corner of his shallow mind; one who keeps silent can not have his depth plumbed.
Don’t pretend to know more than you do. To say you have read a book and then seemingly to understand nothing of what you have read, proves you a half-wit. Only the very small mind hesitates to say “I don’t know.”
Above all, stop and think what you are saying! This is really the first, last and only rule. If you “stop” you can’t chatter or expound or flounder ceaselessly, and if you think, you will find a topic and a manner of presenting your topic so that your neighbor will be interested rather than long-suffering.
Remember also that the sympathetic (not apathetic) listener is the delight of delights. The person who looks glad to see you, who is seemingly eager for your news, or enthralled with your conversation; who looks at you with a kindling of the face, and gives you spontaneous and undivided attention, is the one to whom the palm for the art of conversation would undoubtedly be awarded.