Friday, October 24, 2008

P's, Q's and the minding thereof

"Do you want a sticker?" the speech therapist asked my daughter. "Yes," she responded. "Yes, please," I prompted. "Yes please", she corrected herself.

"Oh, right. I'd forgotten you were like that," the therapist said. The therapist. The woman whose job it is to help my daughter work out the intricacies of interpersonal conversation.

Excuse me? Like what? Unusual because I insist on teaching my children basic manners? Apparently so.

I may live in Israel, the country which invented chutzpah and "telling it like it is", but that doesn't mean I can't foster a tiny oasis of slightly more civilized behavior within my own family. Israelis are brusque to a fault, sometimes appearing quite rude in the eyes of outsiders. They're not acting rudely by their own code of behavior, but as someone raised in the US I have to say that even after nearly twenty years here it still grates on me.

As a New Yorker born and bred I think I'm fairly moderate in the standards I demand from my children, and from myself. Please, thank you, hold the door for someone carrying heavy packages, we're talking the basics here, not yes ma'am-ing or no sir-ing everyone old enough to vote. Still, that's somewhat unusual here. Enough that teachers have commented on my children's American manners, and other parents have set them up as role models for their own children, much to my son's chagrin. (You wouldn't think a simple "please" would get that much attention, would you? Surprisingly, it does.)

To me, basic manners aren't an end in themselves, they are a sign of a deeper respect. A way of saying "I recognize you and notice and appreciate what you are doing." If we don't recognize this most basic level of interaction, how naturally will respect come when the issues are harder and more contentious? If you don't say good morning to a teacher, or pay attention when she speaks, how will you give her the respect that she deserves and YOU need to be able to learn? How can we teach our children to go out into the world and thrive if they can't manage something as basic as please and thank you? How much easier is it to jump to anger and aggression if our speech is already angry and aggressive? What a difference it could make to take that extra second to temper ourselves, even just a little.

Manners. It all comes down to basics. Start with the basics, internalize them, teach them to your children and the rest will follow naturally.

And wouldn't that be wonderful.



Anonymous said...

Good manners are like good grammar. Both cost nothing but the lack of either will leave an impression that will never be forgotten.

Good manners are a sign of good parenting. Growing up, everything had a please or a thank you in the appropriate place, and my grammar was corrected - gently - so that I would learn to communicate well. I remember in high school a teacher questioned whether I had actually written an essay that I submitted. My spoken language was the teenaged vernacular of the time - ain'ts and dontchas and all the rest. No, I confessed, I know how to write - and speak - properly, but to do so would ensure four years of eating lunch alone. The teacher understood and from then on praised my writing, but held me to a standard that was a little higher than my peers. He knew I could do it, so he required it of me. I think he enjoyed it more than I did.

Good manners are vital. And they cannot (that I am aware) be taught to adults. Such things must be instilled in children. Polite children can grow into rude adults, but rude children almost never grow into polite adults.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

You know, I have little 7 year old twins that live next door to me. They have never been taught please, thank you, or anything.
They visit me often (everyday) and my house rules apply.
They balked at first, but now are starting to get it.
Shame on that teacher for being so ignorant of the basics!
And applause, applause to you for teaching your children to be decent human beings.

Anonymous said...

And the punchline to the joke is "mah zeh sleecha" (what is excuse me). The joke starts, "Excuse me, what is your opinion of the meat shortage?" The Russian guy doesn't know an opinion. The Polish guy doesn't know what meat is (the joke is old, from when the Soviet Union was around). The American doesn't know a shortage. And I already said the punchline, by the Israeli.

Good luck with teaching Israeli manners. Years ago, when I worked at MIT with many visiting scientists, I noted a contrast between the Japanese and the Israelis. The Japanese always said, please, thank you, called you Mr or Ms., as appropriate. But you never really got to know them. The Israelis called you by your first name, and you immediately felt a friendliness. All kinds of people in this world.

Robin said...

I'm not trying to teach the Israelis. It's not something I can reasonably do, and I don't really feel it's my place either to pass judgement on society as a whole. What I can, and do, do is exert some control over my own environment, and make my own little changes, and then let their ripples expand where they may.

Amanda said...


A person that can't respect others is a person that can't respect himself.

Scribbit said...

"I'd forgotten you were like that??"

I'd have wanted to come across the desk and teach her some manners :)

deedee said...

The therapist's reaction is pretty funny!

Jill said...

You hit on a very sensitive nerve of mine... manners... and why more people don't have them.

I too strive to reinforce good manners with my girls - please, thank you, may I, this is delicious, excuse me.... what's wrong with saying these things?

So glad to hear I'm not alone!

Claremont First Ward said...

Totally feeling the sepia love. I want to come over and go through your books!

I think basic manners are essential too. I still don't understand why using them is so difficult for so many!

Janet said...

When I read the first three paragraphs, I rude! But then I read the rest and it made sense to me. How to combine two cultures is a tough one...good luck!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I hope you called her on that. "Yes, I'm like that. I expect my children to behave like civilized people."

And then I'd have lodged a complaint with the therapist's boss. She cut you down in front of your daughter -- "Like that" is pretty insulting. There's no call for that. You should be a hero in Maya's eyes. You're the mom.

Jientje said...

You should be proud you are "like that"!!

anymommy said...

I'm fanatic about the basics of politeness - please, thank you, greeting someone when they speak to you. Table manners too. People tell me I am really strict with my kids. I guess so, but it's so important.

Spacemom said...

HAH! I am amazed at that response! I also expect manners from my kids, and you know what? They do to almost everybody on the planet...except for Jay and I!

Unknown said...

Goodness, it's hard enough to teach good manners to my children here in America! I can't imagine having a whole culture against me. :)

Good for you, Robin. Your children will be better off for learning to be respectful and kind to others not only with their actions but with their words.

Robin said...

See that's the thing, the comment wasn't made with any malice and she didn't mean it as an insult, and knowing that nor did I take it as one (I actually quite like this woman). It was more just a statement of fact.

Different strokes and all that...

Lilight said...

Can I just say, that I am thankful that you are doing that! After living in Florida now for a little over a year, with a lot of transplants from New York and Jersey, and understanding more about what you were talking about, I can appreciate more that you are different in emphasizing such good manners and politeness :). Good for you, Robin!!!

Monica said...

I have to agree with you. Manners are so important. I am a big fan of children addressing me with a Ms. in front of my name. It floors me when a 4 or 5 year old calls me by my name without a Ms. Almost like they feel they are on the same level as me. Luckily it has been a while. I hate to correct in front of their parent, so I don't, but boy it bothers me.

Robin said...

Oh boy, you would have trouble in Israel then - kids here call EVERYONE by their first name - even teachers, and even the principal!

There have been years when I didn't even *know* my kids' teachers' last names!

Amanda said...

Oh, no--not first name use of adults! *eek!* My Sunday School class even calls me Ms.Amanda. It's not hard to get them into the habit, either--and they respect me even when they don't respect their own parents.

Although I was raised & now live in NY state, I spent a number of years in the South, and I surely appreciate the Sirs and Ma'ams of young people there. And I find that addressing older folks in that way here is very much appreciated--I was at an elderly day center last week and "Yes, Ma'am"d her and she was delighted! Too many people are so inappropriately familiar.

Shannon said...

Amen! I am a stickler for manners too. The best part of holding your kids to a higher standard of manners is seeing them eventually do it without prompt. Don't listen to people who disagree. Basic manners are a gift you are giving to your kids. They will be more successful in later life because of it. GOod job mom!

Michelle O'Neil said...

We are upstate New Yorkers, and moved to Cleveland after a few years in Virginia, where everyone was Ms. First name. I rather liked it. Respecful but not so formal.

We find good manners take our child far even though she struggles with social skills.
When she screams NO! with Thank YOU added at the end, people get the point that she is not trying to be rude.