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If You Can't Say Anything Nice...Come Sit by Me

Etiquette expert, Margery Sinclair, returns to Shorewood Saturday to give local children a lesson on proper dinner table manners and protocol.

Margery Sinclair has been consulting and citing cultural rules of etiquette since she was a little girl, when she received Amy Vanderbilt's "Complete Guide to Gracious Living."

"I didn't realize it was a reference guide," she said. "So I read it cover to cover, and so was well-prepared for a private audience with the Pope and also what to wear to dinner on the first night of a transatlantic voyage by boat." 

Saturday, international etiquette guru Sinclair will return home to Shorewood — having lived and raised her son here — to lead 21 lucky local children in a private lesson in etiquette from 10:30 a.m. to noon. 

The special class is part of Shorewood's "" running the same day. 

Her new book, titled, "A Year of Good Manners," is a family resource and perpetual calendar for manners and birthday reminders.

"There are daily tips on one side of each day of the year, with a space for birthdays or anniversaries as well." she said.  

Her website also includes many areas of current advice regarding technologies (no texting at the table, ever) and hand-written notes.  

Think you'll have to stick out your pinkies? Think again.

"Knowing the history behind the societal rules is key as well as interesting," says Sinclair. "For example, Queen Victoria had terrible arthritis and had to take her tea with a straight pinky finger. In order to make the queen comfortable, the court began drinking tea with outstretched pinky fingers as well. However, the queen died in 1903, and so did the custom. Now, it just looks pretentious an affected."

Sinclair was recently on Real Milwaukee and the Morning Blend giving holiday tips and suggestions like what to do when you receive a card from someone who wasn't on your list, and recommended Shorewood shops for stocking up on gifts "to have on hand, just in case."

Personally, I'm thrilled and relieved to find out that the holiday letter is out of favor. Sinclair suggests having a fully drafted sheet of details about the year, from which to personally write cards, and also recommends writing no more than two or three cards at a time.

She teaches people of all ages, from kids to college students to adults, and from personal to business settings. From our delightful hour-long conversation, Ms. Sinclair covered my host of questions which ranged widely (surprise) from how to best communicate with ex-stepmothers, to what to do if your lunch host has a piece of food on his face.  

"Etiquette describes the set of rules, and manners are what you do with them," she says with her crisp voice and bright eyes. You can learn this.  

To the notion of business etiquette, Sinclair stresses skills learned early have a big payoff.  

"Many jobs are decided over lunch after the second interview. It's important to know how to handle yourself graciously, regardless of age or setting," she said.

Saturday will be no exception for Sinclair, and she will include elements of having a conversation at dinner.

"Eating and dining are different. Dining is eating, with conversation, so when someone asks you a question, you give a full answer, and then ask a similar question."  

Finally, Sinclair left me with a catch-all new rule.

"Always use the platinum rule," she says, noting it's an upgrade from the "golden rule." "With platinum, we say, platinum rule: Treat other people the way they want to be treated. It's harder. They give hints, but you have to be attentive."

During Saturday's class, Sinclair will also entertain a late-arriving guest about how to keep the crumbs out of his beard and keep the soot out of the chimney.

There will be a handout of 10 tips for families on Saturday, which are also just a few offered on her website.

The event is co-sponsored by North Star American Bistro and the Shorewood BID, with the Bistro generously providing the space, the lunch, and the materials to create a table setting by the students who will, by the end, know how to properly use the utensils, make conversation, and delight guests...likely putting adult manners to shame.

[Quote in title is from Teddy Roosevelt's elegant, eldery cousin Alice Longworth Roosevelt, who had a pentient for gossip. Ms. Sinclair uses the term to suggest you might start minding what you say, and by the way, you may want to check your teeth. "If you can’t say anything nice, come sit here by me."] 

Jenny Heyden December 07, 2012 at 07:59 PM
I bought two yesterday! And - she'll have some on hand on Saturday at the North Star Bistro before and after her class!
Jay Sykes December 07, 2012 at 11:39 PM
What is the proper etiquette when in motoring towards a mailbox unfortunately positioned on the opposite side of the road?
Dave Koven December 08, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Jay Sykes...Try to make your verbal comments poly- rather than monosyllabic. We all know that monosyllabic usage will only lead to coarseness, and this is completely unnecessary. It will not bring back the mailbox, and you will feel yourself cheapened. Perhaps some personal observations upon the vagaries of good fortune, or mailbox placement, would be in order? Let your conscience be your guide.
Jim Genthe January 02, 2013 at 01:49 PM
Dave Koven- Thank you for a good AM chuckle...actually, a GREAT AM chuckle, since I was able to rein it in BEFORE spraying my java across the monitor! ◕ ‿ ◕
Dave Koven January 02, 2013 at 07:21 PM
Jim Genthe...Thanks for the kind comment. Glad I could help to get your day going right. You're right, you don't want to "blow your joe".

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