I remember a meal I had in British Columbia once. I joined a large Canadian family for dinner. At first I did not notice, but then it struck me – the constant round of “Please”, “Thank you”, “You’re welcome” – an automatic level of politeness that was very foreign to me as a Kiwi. I was not the only guest at the meal – their teenage daughter had invited her new boyfriend too. So, for him, it was the nerve-wracking ordeal of meeting her parents for the first time; and, as he cut into his food, his plate shattered. Gravy, meat, vegetables – all onto the table. If this had been happening to me, I would have died, and so would my girlfriend, and the parents as well. In fact, the whole table, would have keeled over, stone dead from embarrassment. But Canadian super-manners kicked in. “Oh don’t worry about that – the dishwasher does that to the plates.” I am sure it doesn’t, but there was just a swirl of good natured reassurance, they laughed it off, the boy handled it just fine, his food was replaced in a moment, and there was not a single corpse anywhere. Man, I was impressed.
Etiquette is not just old-fashioned snobbery. If you give your kids good manners, they will know how to handle almost any situation. Knowing what to do, knowing how to make a request, knowing how to show kindness and respect – fantastic life skills.