Good manners, in my humble Southern opinion, are one of the most important things you can have. You can make lasting impressions, help people out of awkward situations, and gain valuable relationships by being courteous. Some would say it’s a lost art, but I think even the tiniest of gestures can be easy to do in your daily life, and they can make such a difference.
Here are my 5 simples ways to be more polite (taught to me by my mamma):
#1 Cover For People
This, in my book, is THE key to having good manners. People make mistakes, say or do embarrassing things without thinking, or fumble in front of others, and someone who is truly polite will be the first to try to cover for them. Someone without any manners, on the other hand, will bring attention to the mistake, which is such a rude thing to do. This goes for the smallest of things.
It’s hard to explain, but I think a scene from the movie Pretty Woman perfectly describes it. Julia Roberts is all dressed up at a fancy dinner and she doesn’t know which utensil to use for her meal. She turns to Richard Gere and asks where the salad is, which he told her comes after the meal, and she responds with “but that was the fork I knew.” As she looks down at her plate, worried that she will use the wrong fork and embarrass herself in front of these fancy people, a gentleman at the table said to her “I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been able to tell which goes with what” and he picks up the food and eats it with his hands to show her what to do discretely. This man was clearly rich and refined, he definitely knew which utensils to use, but he effortlessly, without drawing any attention to her and making it seem like he was the one who didn’t know what he was doing, covered for her and saved her from an embarrassing moment.
It’s such a small thing, but I think it’s so important to help people and treat them how you would hope to be treated in the same situation.
#2 Girls, Be the First to Grab a Place
Yes, I mean it! Say you’re at a BBQ with your friends and family. All the guys have been talking about being ready for the food to be served, and then when it’s finally there, they all wait to the side for the ladies to grab a plate first, but all the ladies are too embarrassed to look too eager to eat. It’s such a silly dance we do, but it happens every time. So, I think the polite thing to do is if you’re a girl, grab a dang plate and get the ball rolling! The men aren’t going to look at you and criticize your waistline and think you shouldn’t be eating. Instead, they’ll be relieved because they did the gentlemanly thing and they still don’t have to wait forever to eat. Plus, you get to eat first, and you know you wanted that pulled pork sandwich.
Also, if you’re at a party where the hostess prepared a hot meal, you should consider all the work they put in and eat before it gets cold.
#3 Show Your Appreciation
Everyone wants to feel appreciated. It can be really easy to get lazy, especially with the ones closest to you or the people you may never see again, but people really remember when they’re properly acknowledged for something kind they did. I’m not saying you should throw a party every time someone holds the door for you, but it’s important to let them know you’re thankful.
For instance, if you’re shorter and you’re having trouble getting your luggage in the overhead bin and someone offers to help, really show your appreciation. Instead of a timid “thank you”, you should make eye contact with them and say something like “thank you, I don’t know how I would have gotten that thing up there without your help! I really appreciate it.” Seems obvious enough, but I know I have done something for someone and they barely thanked me, and it even made me for a minute wish I hadn’t helped them.
#4 Consider Other People’s Situations
This is my personal updated rule on the whole “men holding the door for women” thing. Now more than ever, it is so important for women to show their strength and not be passive towards men. While I personally still appreciate if a man holds the door for me (I’m old-fashioned like that) I completely understand and respect where the women who don’t care for it are coming from.
So, with that said, I think we should all consider situations we are in and help if it would be just that, helpful. If someone is holding a bunch of crap and they can’t open the door without struggling, help them. If a pregnant woman is being tossed around on the bus and clearly would be more comfortable in a seat, offer yours. I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, simply considering the situation another human is in and offering to help if you can is such a small but meaningful thing you can do. Being polite means being kind.
#5 Listen Up and Pay Attention
This is all about conversations, and it can be split up in two subcategories:
A. Actually listen to people when they’re talking. You know the feeling when someone is talking and you’re not really listening because you can’t wait until they’re finished because you have something really great to contribute? Imagine if that was how everyone was thinking when you were talking. It doesn’t feel so good, does it? When I think about it too much, it honestly makes me not want to talk at all. A simple way to be polite is to just take a second and remember that a conversation is supposed to be between two equals, both giving their insights and opinions, and both deserve a listening ear.
B. Pay attention to body language. This is a little deeper, but if you’re ever having a conversation with someone on the heavier side, discussing things like religion, family, or politics, pay attention to their body language. You should never assume someone’s standing on any issue, and it can be really easy to offend someone if you’re not thinking. People tend to retract, like sit further back in their chair or take their hand off the table and put it in their lap, or break eye contact more often than they normally would if they’re feeling uncomfortable, and if you notice this, you should maybe reconsider the topic. The polite thing to do is make sure everyone in the conversation is comfortable.