There is a protocol for protocol! During a recent eating episode, I was asked if I was going to correct everything I observed going wrong at the table. I casually replied to the teen-in-training, “Of course not. I only correct things that make you repulsive to other people!” After all, that is the entire point of proper protocol—to make others feel comfortable in our presence. For those who doubt the truth of this statement, here is a test: When you walk into a restaurant and must seat yourself, do you glance around and silently access which tables are available? Your selection subconsciously situates you away from children, teens, people on cell phones, and maybe even people who appear unfriendly or unkempt. WHY? Because presence counts. It is not enough to actual show up; it is more important to show up correctly, i.e. demonstrating proper behaviors, expected attitudes and the necessary poise. So, what are the silent rules of protocol for protocol sake? Well, there are many, but for starters, here are five that can be used immediately as we engage in this season of festivities and celebrations:
- You don’t have to know all the rules to be welcome at an event. You must, however, demonstrate a willingness to be corrected should your behavior become or appear egregious to other guests or to your host/hostess. If you continuously pass the plates clockwise and every other dish is colliding with yours midair, take a silent hint and change directions.
- It is still proper, acceptable and expected to use excuse me, please and thank you. Nothing grates on the nerves as much as someone who refuses to acknowledge simple acts of courtesies and who takes everyone else’s needs for granted or assumes airs of superiority by pushing their way through a crowd, stepping on toes and knocking elbows without ever acknowledging those around them.
- Some things are still privileges even if it appears that everyone is exercising the right to participate. Cell phones and the right to privacy is one such privilege that is taken for granted and is a constant source of irritation and frustration for those subjected to such noisy and often personal ranting. A word of advice to both groups: Proper protocol is to step away from the crowd and lower one’s voice as to ensure privacy for yourself and the person on the other end. For those who are forced to listen, etiquette dictates that you ignore those who lack the manners as detailed above and avoid making faces or obscene gestures of disbelief or disgust. Simply look away or find another way to occupy your time.
- Speaking of privileges, in this season or other instances where gifts are accepted or expected, do not expect everyone to appreciate a gag gift. True, while the economy may dictate the purse, it should never displace respectability. I was once present at a party where the boss received the gag of the hour, which was a tie-dyed brassiere stuffed inside of a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. The blushing face of the office administrator was admission enough of a gag gone wrong. Better a $5 gift card inside of a tissue-stuffed box than a red-face that outlasts the season!
- There is point when everything ends, even if it was the best of times. Decorations should reflect that one has moved on. Certainly one has a right to keep festive trinkets inside, but to subject the entire neighborhood to a thousand-light display until April is to risk the ire of even the most patient neighbor. This doubles if the irksome display is musical or confined to a small space, such as a cubicle. If you must keep a memoir of past festivities and/or seasons, consider modestly confining it for your own personal enjoyment. Why? Because perhaps only you still remember THAT moment.
Protocol has its own boundaries of respect. It never imposes on ones right to NOT be respectful, polite or kind, but isn’t the world more civil when we are?
I am Pamela Coopwood and I am “Speaking of Protocol.”