Lose the white gloves
Published: May 14, 2012
Watching the White House correspondents’ dinner on television was disheartening. It wasn’t the political jokes or even that the Kardashians were invited and I wasn’t. It was the guests’ bad manners. Oh, I’m sure they put their napkins in their laps and used the correct fork for dessert. But their flag etiquette was sadly lacking.
Judging from the chattering and laughter, most guests at the Washington, D.C., media gala did not notice when the military color guard passed through the large room. Silence finally arrived after the colors were posted, during the opening bars of the National Anthem.
Perhaps their mamas didn’t teach them to honor the flag. If their mamas, or daddies, had been military spouses, that would not have been a problem.
Those of us schooled in military life know better than the media glitterati how to show due respect for the Star-Spangled Banner. We’ve had plenty of practice, even at movie theaters. This public breach of patriotic protocol made me want to shout at my television, but that would be pointless and rude.
Instead, I politely recommend Marna Krajeski’s new book, “64 Easy Answers About Etiquette for the Modern Military Spouse.” It is modern, in fact it’s an e-book, which covers everything from forks and knives to flag etiquette — for civilians, too.
When the American flag passes in a procession, military members salute and civilians should stand silently, right hands over hearts. These and other common courtesies are important to know.
“There’s an impression that etiquette is this … white glove, afternoon tea, cotillion dance thing, an antiquated notion that has no place in modern life,” said Marna, an experienced Army wife. “I think there is a big place for etiquette in modern life.”
Guidelines for appropriate behavior provide boundaries and a measure of freedom, I suggested, and Marna agreed.
“Knowing how to respond in certain social situations makes us more comfortable,” she said. “It relaxes you, and it’s not that complicated.”
The book is not complicated, either. As advertised, it gives 64 common questions and straightforward answers. It covers how to set a table with one simple diagram, for example. Other brief entries include such helpful tips as:
- To avoid using your neighbor’s glass or bread plate at a nice dinner, make an OK sign with each hand. The left hand forms a “b” for bread, and the right forms a “d” for drink. Might be a good idea to make the hand signals under the table, though.
- RSVP represents the French for “please respond,” which one should do within 48 hours of receiving an invitation. Better to respond late than not at all.
- After an event, send a thank-you note promptly, even if you presented a hostess gift. When receiving a hostess gift, however, no thank-you note is necessary.
- Don’t come early. Acceptable arrival time is up to ten minutes after the time on an invitation.
- When introducing people, start with ladies first and older people before younger. At a military function, rank takes precedence, but Marna emphasizes that the rules are less important than the introduction. Make introductions — even if you can’t remember the rules.
Unlike the doorstop-sized etiquette books of the past, Marna’s book never mentions white gloves. Those days are gone, but she does include information about appropriate attire. Informal does not mean casual, she cautions. If an invitation for an event says “informal,” men should wear a coat and tie and women a nice dress or suit.
The e-book format can be downloaded to a reader or even a smartphone. But if you need a refresher on receiving line etiquette via iPhone, don’t read up on it during dinner. Avoid texting, reading or talking on cellphones at any social function.
Show respect when our flag passes by, and if your mama taught you these important things, send her a thank-you note.
For more about this and other books by Marna Krajeski, click here.