Monday, August 26, 2013

Charm School

Image courtesy of Maryann Cummings

A well-to-do woman sipped tea with a younger and not-so-well-heeled acquaintance on the veranda of her spacious mansion. “When my first child was born,” she said, “I decided to do something especially nice for myself. So I built this exquisite home.”

“Well, isn't that nice,” said the other with a bright smile.

“And on my 40th birthday I bought myself that beautiful antique Rolls Royce in the driveway. Why, I think it's the most gorgeous automobile in the world.”

“Well, isn't that nice,” said her friend.

“And for no reason at all, I decided I needed a special gift, so I acquired the most wonderful collection of ridiculously expensive art I only show to my most cherished friends. I hope you can see it someday.”

“Well, isn't that nice,” came the pleasant response.

“Now tell me, what have you done for yourself lately?” she asked.

“I went to charm school.”

“Charm school! Land sakes, child, what on earth for?”

“So when I feel like saying, 'Lady, who gives a rip?' I smile and say, 'Well, isn't that nice.'”

How often is tact just having something you want to say and not saying it?

An interesting story comes from 19th Century England. According to the account, Queen Victoria was once at a diplomatic reception in London. The guest of honor was an African chieftain. All went well during the meal until, at the end, finger bowls were served. The guest of honor had never seen a British finger bowl, and no one had thought to brief him beforehand about its purpose. So not knowing what else to do, he took the bowl in his two hands, lifted it to his mouth and drank its contents down.

For an instant there was breathless silence among the British privileged guests, and then they began to whisper to one another about the breach of etiquette. But the queen herself saved the moment when she likewise lifted her bowl to her lips and drank. The diners caught on and a moment later 500 surprised British ladies and gentlemen simultaneously drank the contents of their own finger bowls.

It was the queen’s tact and consideration that guarded her guest from certain embarrassment.

I know we've traveled a long way from the antiquated customs of Victorian England and it can sometimes be hard to relate. But it's summed up well by a piece of advice attributed to a certain J. Masai: “Feelings are everywhere -- be  gentle.”

Maybe that's what it's really all about. Feelings are everywhere and the world is harsh enough. Just be gentle.

Do you think they teach that in charm school?

-- Steve Goodier

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Ethyl Formate said...

I was told a similar charm school story many years ago and love it. Thank you, Steve, for reminding us to be kind. Always be kind.

Steve Goodier said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Ethyl. Best to you.