Thursday, July 22, 2010

Old School Discipline (or, How To Raise Well-Mannered Children)

Bet you thought this post would involve whips and such, didn't you? Sorry to disappoint, but I'm actually referring to a chapter in the book I just finished perusing, by the Allisons Vale & Rattle, How To Boil A Flamingo And 49 Other Lessons in the Lost Art of Being A Lady.

(In case you're wondering, should a flamingo be not available, a few tropical parrots will suffice to seriously impress your next dinner party guests). Short chapters, adapted from household and etiquette guides from the 17th & 18th centuries, brim with tongue-in-cheek instruction and practical advice on everything from How to Picnic, Sit for a Portrait, Choose A Wet-Nurse (never a redhead), How To Employ Your Fan, and How To Manage Your Servants with Mistrust and Misgiving. In short, it is a neccessary compendium and companion for any lady who wishes to make her way successfully amongst society.

Though highly amusing, some of the advice was not as outdated and ridiculously extravagant as perhaps it might first appear. The chapter on "How To Raise Well-Mannered Children" could do with liberal distribution in the 21st century. (As could the possible addition of a chapter, "How to spellcheck your Facebook status updates, especially if you are a teacher and cannot grasp even the most basic spelling and grammar." You aggravate my sensibilities in the most extreme manner, people!) Would it be so bad if rules such as the following were "instilled in children from a young age"?

-Take what you are served [at mealtimes] whether it be to your taste or not. Eccentricity in regard to nourishment should be avoided at all times. How many teatime tantys would be avoided if this rule was strictly enforced!

-Do not present yourself at the table unless your hands and face are clean and hair neatly combed. Well, the hair thing isn't gonna happen, but the basic "clean your hands" before eating rule is a good habit to get into.

-When invited into the company of your betters, do not sit or speak until bidden. Perhaps they could sit without incurring the wrath of society, but learning not to interrupt other conversations and only to speak in turn is an important basic etiquette that alot of adults could do well to remember, as well.

-Use your napkin habitually. Not your sleeve, which becomes a vertiable petri dish of snot, vegemite and dirt on any avergage day.

The chapter advises that, "a mismanaged child is but a regrettable stain upon the fabric of polite company and may be expected to achieve naught in life but the breaking of his poor mother's heart." Uncombed hair at the dinner table might not be a precursor to a life of insubordinate idleness, but would a few old-fashioned manners go astray in the modern world? I think not, and I would also like to suggest compulsory spelling examinations right up to and including tertiary education (longer if you will be spending your working hours in the schooling system). Hmph.

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