Happy formals season! In this offbeat two-week vortex between Thanksgiving and winter break, we culminate the semester on a swankier note by getting suited up for the fancy affair thrown by our sorority, performing arts group or the International Affairs Alliance (Hayley will be accepting invitations). We ditch Van Pelt and take a night off to don our finest apparel, escort our dates and engage in, for college kids anyway, a pretty classy evening.
But why do we decide to make a fuss about etiquette just twice a year?
In an age where we operate on full throttle, we tend to forget the value in switching speeds and doing things slowly. While formals require this, maybe we’d benefit from peppering our daily routines with a little more — you guessed it — formality.
We relish this season because, at its core, it celebrates ceremony and tradition. There’s something special about the fact that your family chooses to deep fry their turkey, beyond the mouth-watering effect, just like there will be something important about the tie you choose to wear to the dance. Formals dictate a set of rules and expectations about how to dress, when to arrive and how to juggle your date and your friends on the dance floor.
We roll our eyes at the terms “manners” and “etiquette,” recalling memories of elbows whisked off the table after a dark look from mom. But as Emily Post, the American authority on etiquette, has maintained since 1922, these acts are simply a physical manifestation of respect, consideration and honesty. The 18th rendition of the Post family opus “Etiquette” acknowledges that we no longer need to bow to our superiors, but that today’s manners “remain a combination of common sense, generosity of spirit and a few specific ‘rules’ that help us interact thoughtfully.”
Now we’ll address what we’re sure you’ve been thinking — etiquette is heteronormative, classist, sexist and outdated. But these connotations obscure what lies at its crux — maybe we just need to give manners a rebranding. Our customs may bend to meet the times, but thoughtfulness is timeless and ungendered.
Reporting from Mobile, Ala., our good friend and College senior Anna Marie Babington watched two of her friends come into society at the Camellia Ball over Thanksgiving. After witnessing what might be the loftiest remnants of etiquette in this country, Babington remarked that “being polite is never out of fashion and proper etiquette is underrated.” But etiquette is not reserved to women — “everyone should be courteous.”
Many of the flaws we millennials are accused of — from being perpetually rude to being lost on the romantic front — might be helped with a spoonful of etiquette to serve as our guide.
The overarching obstacle inhibiting our social interactions is that we haven’t decided on a template to govern them.
We need to revive some of this seemingly archaic etiquette and rewrite guidelines for more modern situations. Meeting our petition for some order in a multidimensional world, Steven Petrow has written a well researched, 400-page book entitled “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” which grapples with everything from coming out at work to the appropriate terms for allies and straight friends to use when asking questions. Like Emily Post said almost 100 years prior, Petrow told Time Magazine, “The underlying theme of the book as I see it is about self-respect and respect for others.”
This theme spreads far beyond romantic relationships. When you perform small, courteous gestures, you imbue a situation with value based on the thought and time you put into the act. So take 20 seconds to hold the library door open for a classmate balancing a tower of books instead of bulldozing past them. It will make both of you feel good, we promise.
By upgrading and agreeing upon the rules we’ve already got, we’ll reinforce scripts that allow us to appreciate each other. We need some foundational structure to guide our social interactions. Without it, we’ll perpetuate the long debates over where to punctuate a text message, hesitations on how to address professors and there will be absolutely no hope for turning a Smoke’s friend into a real friend.
If we get these things sorted, maybe we’ll be less awkward at graduation.
Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College juniors from New York and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. respectively. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them at
haybethbrooks and alikokot.
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