A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS TO ETIQUETTE INSTRUCTORS
By Ana Prvacki
Over the last months I have been reading etiquette books and philosophy dealing with the issue of hospitality and welcoming. Besides the “web to web handshake” I was most moved by this paragraph from Derrida’s “Of Hospitality”:
“Let us say yes to who or what turns up, before any determination, before any anticipation, before any identification, whether or not it has to do with a foreigner, an immigrant, an invited guest, or an unexpected visitor, whether or not the new arrival is the citizen of another country, a human, animal or divine creature, a living or dead thing, male or female.”
I asked our etiquette instructors how etiquette enables this “yes”, this welcoming of the other and what is the most important gesture which facilitates this opening?
VARTOUHI (VIKI) KESHISHYAN
“There is no particular etiquette rule that will make a person we meet feel special. Only our attention and willingness to listen, understand and sympathize. Lillian Watson wrote, ‘You can’t have two sets of manners, two social codes - one for those you admire and want to impress, another for those whom you consider unimportant.’ I think this approach, when it is sincere, should apply equally to a political, social, and personal life of every human being.”
“One important way etiquette enables this ‘yes’ is by practicing kindness. If we are truly kind we will treat and accept others the way we want to be treated. It is a reinforcement of the Golden Rule. I think the most important gesture which facilitates this opening is a ‘smile.’ I believe being kind is a human value, beyond politics. It doesn’t matter your position in life, your nationality or culture, your work, male or female, it can be practiced by anyone.
I also believe that sharing a ‘smile’ is the most welcoming gesture we have as human beings. I realize the ‘smile’ is well received and understood in our country, perhaps not so much in other lands. When a smile is not returned, I usually think the person is having a bad day. Unfortunately this wonderful gesture the ‘smile’ is also used to manipulate and deceive all over the world.”
“Etiquette is defined as the customs or rules governing behavior regarded as correct or acceptable in social or official life. If etiquette means to follow the rules of behavior, then it follows that the YES is the acknowledgement of that rule. The YES indicates that we understand the rules.
And the ultimate YES - a smile - is our most direct and most powerful communication tool.
A smile can express many emotions but it primarily offers insight to the private thoughts of the mind. This one seemingly simple gesture can convey intentions, emotions, feelings and attitudes, as well as demonstrating warmth, empathy and cooperation. As I think Derrida himself would have admitted, the smile can be a contradictory signal in an unexpected situation; however, it remains the most direct path to YES.
Statistically, 86% of people say that they are more likely to strike up conversations with strangers if they are smiling. This coupled with the fact that non-verbal communication such as a smile make up at least 65% of the conversation, demonstrates the power our smiles can unleash as a YES. If the end game is to create a relationship in community, then the smile is the ultimate vehicle.”
“ln full disclosure, this concept of welcoming the other is actually a hard one for me and it is something I struggle with daily. I’m not sure if it has to do with the way I was raised or the fact that I am originally from New York and have a tendency to keep a certain amount of distance between myself and others, but it is definitely a challenge that sometimes prohibits me from certain opportunities and forming real connections. I work constantly to improve myself and use the tools of etiquette to help me be more open and welcoming of everything and everyone, but it is a daily practice and it is not easy.
So, in answer to your question, I believe that etiquette helps to facilitate relationships. When one takes the time to follow the guidelines of social behavior they are essentially thinking of the needs of others before themselves and this is an attractive quality that can become the foundation of the relationship. If I had to choose a specific gesture to go along with this I would agree with Iris that the smile is the most welcoming expression of kindness and openness (at least here in America). It conveys friendliness and accessibility and single-handedly welcomes the other.”
I was also really curious to know what has motivated their interest in manners.
“My interest in manners and etiquette was motivated by what I’ve noticed as rudeness and a blatant disregard for young people respecting others. I am particularly interested in children and teens and I felt I could help reverse this behavior through etiquette training. My desire is to promote good manners and civility.”
VARTOUHI (VIKI) KESHISHYAN
“As a child growing in a multicultural extended family, I noticed that sometimes small details or subtle gestures could make a difference in an understanding between people, especially for the ones from different cultural backgrounds, and save them embarrassment and frustration.
Later in life, when I became a teacher, I realized that we teach our children reading, writing, and mathematics and other sciences, but we let them pick the social communication intelligence up from somewhere else. By doing that, we do not help them raise their confidence, self-esteem, and awareness of the importance of good manners. Moreover, the absence of this intelligence may become an obstacle for them to go after their dreams and succeed in life.”
“Growing up in Arkansas, manners were always stressed. In fact they were demanded. As a child I was continually taught the importance of taking care of those around you through good manners. My mother insisted that I have impeccable manners and follow the rules that were part of our Southern culture. As a child, it never occurred to me that other cultures in the United States did not follow similar rules.
Years later I realized that cultures do vary, often by region. California is no exception. I became interested in offering etiquette training as a result of my catering business. I noticed that even the most highly paid young attorneys, primarily summer associates, for whom I catered, had a tendency to disrespect others. They were sometimes abrupt and frankly seemed a bit lost. But I always felt this was unintentional. It occurred to me that I could offer additional value to my catering clients through etiquette training. My original idea was to train with the best person, at that time it was Dorothea Johnson at the Washington School of Etiquette and Protocol, and to offer these lessons to my highly paid and respected catering clients. Unfortunately at that time, this was not a welcome additional opportunity.”
“I actually just touched upon this subject in my most recent newsletter where I said I am forever amazed at the limitless nature of this business. Manners and etiquette affect every facet of our lives and there is literally no area that is untouched. Most people have no idea of the impact that these tools can have on their life. It is transformational! Those who are struggling to obtain jobs, find mates, win friends, raise children or just get through the day are astounded by the vast amount of information that is available (and accessible) in this field that will help them achieve their goals. This fact continuously inspires me and drives me forward. On a personal note, my mini motivators are my two daughters. I wanted to provide them with the skills to become confident, well-rounded, communicative human beings.”
ABOUT GREETING COMMITTEE
Einstein thought the most important question facing humanity should be, “Is the universe a friendly place?” and Kurt Vonnegut asked that we practice “A little less love, and a little more common decency.” Greeting Committee, by Ana Prvacki, considers these ideas by magnifying and zooming in on the protocols and customs of basic hospitality routines, such as greetings, salutations and welcoming. For her project at the Hammer, visitors are invited to observe or participate in interventions encouraging gestures of welcoming in the Wilshire lobby Thursday, April 7 through Sunday, April 10 from 12-4pm each day.