Deportment Lessons



At some point during my childhood, my Grandfather decided that the world was going to roll me over.  I reminded him of my uncle who shared my tendency for shyness and hysteria.  So being the cast off WASP that he was, he decided to give me the remnants of lessons in deportment that he was taught.  Only I was treated to these lessons.  At the time I thought this stern interest was due to my being the disappointment in the family, but now I have changed my mind about that conclusion.  I think my Grandfather decided I was the one to carry on tradition, whatever he had left from his fading family history.

So there were rules in behavior and social etiquette.  I don't remember these lessons in words so much as receiving them by a kind of osmosis.  As I get older, I find myself defaulting to these rules ever more and being continually surprised of the impression they made upon me.

Always be a thrifty saver.

I've failed miserably at this rule.  In fact if my grandfather could climb from his last resting place to give me a stern disapproving stare, he would be digging himself free now.

Don't be a Braggart.  In fact never talk about yourself at all if it can be avoided.

I never talk if I can avoid it.  Which means I succeed at this rule but only because I've twisted it to suit my reticence.  Because that goes against this rule...

Put people at ease with pleasant conversation.

Hence all those afternoon strolls with my grandfather while we walked my dog.  During those strolls we would visit everyone my grandfather knew.  These strolls were not only relegated to home territory but were required at our summer place as well.  I would silently walk with my grandfather from house to house, acquaintance to acquaintance.  At each visit my grandfather would bring a smile to everyone (unfortunately family members experienced his more stormy behavior).  The conversations were never weighty, always light weight.  Then he would pass the conversation torch to me.  I would get as far as greetings then clam up, feeling my lips tighten and my face get hot.  All the while with my grandfather and family friends trying to pull conversation out of me.

I used to think, and still do, that it was not only my shyness working against me but the following related rules as well.

Don't talk about anything serious.

No political talk - Your friend/acquaintance/pleasant stranger may not agree with you and a fight could ensue.
No Religious subjects - Same reason as politics.
Nothing too intellectual - This addendum was not due to not wanting to appear intelligent it was due to your partner's comfort.  An intellectual conversation may reveal the educational shortcomings of your conversation partner, even worse it could highlight your own ignorance.  It is also a slippery slope topic to the don't be a braggart rule.  So the default should be nothing clever, at all, unless you had the finesse to pull it off without making everyone around you feel stupid.  Hence the celebration of dry wit in WASP circles.
Do Not Talk about money or material possessions - NEVER.
Do Not talk about your existential angst or personal problems - Conversation is about bringing a smile to your conversation partner's face.  It is not about turning them into your therapist or depressing them.
No Gossip - Every once in awhile you will be the recipient of interesting news.  But don't try to intentionally pull it out of people.

So what are you left with as conversation fodder?

Weather (Can't go wrong with a subject as plain as the nose on your face)
Food (When you eat plain food, you know discussing it won't be controversial)
Animals (My dog's good nature and bathroom needs were much discussed)
Children (Hence my torture)
Spouses (Only if it is about hobbies or jobs or recent outings. Anything else would be gossip)
Gentle, noncommittal flirtation and teasing (My grandfather was ace at this with both women and men)

More odds and ends rules:

Don't be a borrower - Never owe anyone anything
Be neat in home and person  - I've found this difficult to this day.  I dress like the nutty professor and can never keep anything in its place.
Use good grammar - A big fat fail for me despite my grandfather and grandmother correcting me.
Don't be pushy but don't be a push-over either - My grandfather would continually tell me to not be a pill and to use a gentle but firm no when required.
Always thank people for gifts, time, favors etc., in word and in writing.
Don't use curse words - One area in which my grandfather was less than adept.

The same with:

Hold your temper - On the street we were both good at this, not so much at home.

Finally - Never call attention to yourself or seek attention.  This is related to the braggart rule but it encompasses any kind of attention seeking behavior.  I often wonder what my grandfather would think of online social sites.

Rules to live by but are now in short supply.

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