Notes: Goodness! Its Not About the Fork

When the subject of manners and etiquette comes up is seems that the use of cutlery is the main focus. At Social Arts Atlanta, we hear the following a lot:

I never remember what fork to use!


I am always scared I am going to use the wrong spoon.

The truth is you do not have to know which fork to use. In fact, you will never know all the “rules” of etiquette. These customs and rules change over time.

However, what we all can learn is that giving attention to others instead of focusing on ourselves will nearly always lead us in the correct direction. Here are some examples:

Responding to Invitations: You may be busy but taking the time to let the host know you are coming or not coming to a gathering will ensure that there is enough food and drink for everyone attending and perhaps even enough places for all the guests to sit down.

Writing Thank You Notes: It is always nice to sent a note of thanks for a kindness. It is particularly important for gifts that are sent and that you do not open in front of the giver. If you do not sent a note or a message in another way, how will they know that you received it?

Cell Phones In Public: Cell phones have become an important part of all of our lives. However, the world should not be a part of every conversation you make. Hearing private information can make people around you uncomfortable and could possibly give information to someone who should not have it. Also, the person checking you out of the grocery or doctor’s office can do so more quickly if you give them all of your attention. This helps not only the clerk but also there person after you.

If you remember the words of Emily Post you will likely always figure out what to do.

Consideration for the rights and feelings of others…, the very foundation upon which social life is built.

P.S. For dining, always work from the outside in. It is your host’s job to consider you and place the utensels in the correct order according to what is being served.


Notes: National Dance of the Dominican Republic: Merengue

The Merengue is known as the national dance of the Dominican Republic and this Latin dance is a great addition to a basic social dance repertoire. It is simple to learn. Driven by the beat of its music, it has a 4/4 tempo which is like a March in Classical music.

Here is a simple set of instructions for this fun dance:

  • Partners face each other and the lead puts is hand at the followers back at her shoulder blade. She places her hand on the lead’s shoulder. There should no space between the couples arms. The follower puts her right hand in her partners left. This hold creates the frame work for leading and following.
  • The partners mirror each other and step on the beat, lead steps on right and follow steps on left. This creates movement in the hips.
  • With the frame and the steps the couple can move forward, back and side to side. Phrases of movement should be done in eights – eight steps side, eight steps forward, etc. After a time of getting comfortable with these directions, turning can be added.

The Merengue is part of the social dance repertoire that is leaned in Social Arts 101 and built upon in Social Arts 102.

Notes: You Can Shake on It

A very important part of introducing yourself  in our culture is the handshake. Done well, it endears you to the person you have just met. Done poorly, it can make you or your new acquaintance uncomfortable. This ancient human gesture (there are depictions of it in Greek art dating from the 5th Century B.C.E.*) is worth a moment of thought and practice.

When shaking hands remember these three things:

  1. Hands meet web to web – meaning that the fleshy part between thumbs and pointer fingers meet.
  2. Be firm and mindful of your grip – too soft is not confident and too firm causes pain.
  3. Be brief but take your time – two to three pumps at a moderate pace is good.

A confident and welcoming handshake is an asset.

Social Arts Classes practice this important skill at every class. More information about classes is available here.

*Patrick, Bethanne Kelly. An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy: How Manners Shaped the World. National Geographic, 2011. pg 16.

Notes: Opening Doors for Others

doorThe custom of a door being held open for a lady by a gentleman can seem dated and sexist in our time. With the evolution of culture, comes the evolution of customs. So can be the case for the kindness of opening doors for others.

It is interesting to explore where this custom started. There are references to Vikings letting the lady go ahead as ambush decoys. Then there are the multiple time periods where women’s skirts reached enormous size, making it physically impossible to get next to a door to open it. Architecture may also have contributed. Doors in some time periods were very large, heavy and may have had studs for protection. It is possible that a woman and even a man, did not have the body mass to get a door moved by him/herself.1

Regardless of its history, how do we keep the curtesy of this practice without it being patronizing?

These two concepts are relatively cut and dry:

First, no matter who you are or who is behind you, it is always correct and courteous to hold a door open long enough so that the person behind you can catch it as they go through.

Second, it is always kind to open and hold a door for anyone whose arms are full with packages, are pushing a stroller or cart of some kind, are elderly or are using a wheelchair or other mobility aid.

Now for the trickier situations:

The basic concept here is that you open and hold a door for your superior. If you and your boss are approaching a doorway, you open and hold and they go first. If you are with your parent or grandparent, you open and hold (if you are the granddaughter, take a moment and make sure your grandfather does not want to take the lead). If you are with an equals, the person on the hinge side should open the door.

Whatever your gender, if someone chooses to open the door for you assume the best, which is he/she is being courteous not disparaging. Being offended by a kindness is not kind.

When you open a door for someone else, position yourself on the hinge side of the door, step ahead, reach across with the hinge-side arm and step back to open the door and allow the person to pass. If you need to switch places, fall behind to do so. It is important that all parties involve take their time, rushing may cause accidents.

At the end of the day, opening and holding a door for another is thoughtful and should have little to do with gender.

1Gentlemen Open Doors. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2016, from

Notes: Would You Call a Stranger That?

FriendsIf a label would offend a stranger, don’t use it for a friend.

Language is a powerful tool. Words impart information to others, set the mood and even makes us laugh.

There are also lots of words that are used to make people feel set apart and less than.

Interestingly, many of us that would be angered and offended by a stranger using one of these words, use the very same words for ourselves and friends.

Here is an example that occurs with young women. Most women would not stand for a stranger calling them “whore”, “slut” or “bitch.” Yet will refer to themselves and friends by these labels in texts and group chats, even in person. Some people may respond with, “don’t be so uptight,” “that doesn’t mean anything, it is just a joke!”

Well, maybe, but it normalizes the language bit by bit. Just like that poor frog in the pot of boiling water. The water temperature gradually changes and therefore feels normal to the frog. So, it just gets cooked. Similarly, if you repeatedly hear and use derogatory terms with your friends, how long does it take you to use them for or accept them from those that are not? All the while, there is a trail of the word’s original insulting aim.

Other terms fall into this same pattern include; “fag,” “nigger,” “rag head.” Can they really ever lose all of their mal intention even when they are commandeered by the group that that was first meant to be demeaned?

While it is true that the use of these words can change as time and culture evolve, we can and should choose not to use them for either stranger or friend.

Notes: Success at the Museum

A parent whose son completed Social Arts 101 shared this success story with us. We hope you enjoy reading it!

My mom took John and Cindy to the Fernbank Museum recently. She relayed this story to me:
Cindy was thirsty and they didn’t know where the water fountain was located. John offered to find out. He left my mom and Cindy and made his way to the gentleman taking tickets at the entrance. (Mom said the man was pushing 80 years old. She kept her distance to see how John would handle the situation.)
John said “Excuse me, sir. My sister is thirsty, will you tell me where the water fountain is located.” The man told him. John offered his hand, they shook hands and John thanked him. As my mom walked by, the ticket taker complimented her on “that polite young man.”
I’m proud of John for his behavior, and thrilled this went down in front of my mom. Woo hoo! Sometimes it’s the little things…
Thanks for working with these kids. I know mine isn’t the easiest egg, and I really appreciate you offering your time and patience!
Note: The names have been changed in this post for privacy.

Notes: No Forced Marches or Feeding

pieHere at Social Arts Atlanta, we receive search engine alerts for articles containing the words etiquette and manners. People around the planet blog about these subjects regularly. Sometimes there are great finds and we repost these to our Facebook page (hope you will like us on FB) and at other times, a review and not a repost is in order. Here is one such review.

An expert was asked to settle a dispute between husband and wife about the behavior of a guest who attended their New Year’s celebration. The guest did not eat much during the event and repeatedly discussed that she was “trying to cut back.” This guest raved about the small portions she consumed but refused dessert. The wife thought the guest extreemly rude to not have eaten more and to have declined dessert. The wife wanted this guest to be removed from the household’s invitee list while the husband was not offended and wanted the guest to remain.

The etiquette expert weighed-in in favor of the wife because the expert felt that it was rude not to eat full servings of offered food and that it was even worse that the guest refused food.


There are two people in this situation that lack consideration for others, the hostess and the guest. But, not for the reasons the expert sites.

As a host, you provide for the possible needs of your guests. The only guarantee you have is their company. Guests do not have to partake in everything that you offer. They may not care to see your garden regardless of how many new varieties of hostas you just planted. Or, they might only drink one bottled water instead of the three that you planned for each guest. No forced marches or feedings allowed.

Now, for the guest. Even with nearly every magazine cover shouting the benefits of a new diet, it is best to keep relatively quiet about yours. When you are offered something that you do not care for, a sincere “no thank you” is all that is required. You may not even need to mention your eating plan. If you repeatedly talk about it, you impose it on others and they are not on your diet.

So, hosts, enjoy your guest’s company and do not count his/her calorie intake. And, guests, be discreet about your regime. It keeps your mouth shut which could possibly help your diet.