Black Women's Improvement Project (BWIP)

Resident “Miss Manners” Demita Usher On the Lost Art of Etiquette

The rudeness of people make you just want to pull your hair out doesn’t it? I find it amazing what we are “treated” to by others on a daily basis; the intimate details of their date the night before via their cell phone conversation, an annoyed customers colorful language to accompany their displeasure at an incorrect food order, loud gum chewing and a number of other socially unacceptable transgressions against humanity.

This constant assault of coarse, offensive and selfish behavior must end; civility and common decency must be restored. While people may not always know where the forks and knives go at a formal place setting, they do know the importance of manners, social graces and the painful absence of them from our world today. They are tired of being treated badly, they are tired of people behaving badly, bad behavior being rewarded and the embarrassing result of this moral decline is we have a generation that fires people over the Internet, ends relationships via text message and congressmen who twitter naked photos of their intimate parts to women younger than the invention of the cell phone; and sadly they do this at the expense of their wives and children’s dignity.

Television continues to broaden our “manners-deficient” landscape with plentiful images of reality television faux-lebrities who show up, throw up and beat each other up as fun and entertainment for the masses; where a sex tape is the ticket to the “A” list, and distasteful public behavior gets you a book deal with appearances on the talk show circuit. Is this the legacy we are leaving the generation that will follow us? Will the circle finally be complete when people go back to eating with their hands?

It’s time for etiquette and social graces to make a comeback.

I have asked people over time what they think of when they hear the word etiquette and usually the thoughts of older wealthy women with little dogs, tea parties, country clubs, and seemingly snooty waiters who turn their noses up at you usually come to mind. I think they see it as an antiquated set of behaviors that are no longer necessary and no longer needed., nothing could be further from the truth! The truth is however that the meaning of the word has nothing to do with the images of wealth and class although it is identified with it. Though many stories about the origin of etiquette exist, one of my favorite stories provides a good explanation for the essence of its meaning.

The story goes that the gardeners of King Louis XIV were trying to do damage control in regards to the lawns and gardens during the lavish parties that were held at Versailles. They would post “etiques” (signs) that would instruct the guests to keep off the grass and don’t walk on the flowers. Well, people ignored the memo and the King finally had to tell people they could not go beyond the signs themselves. The word etiques evolved into the word etiquette which means “a ticket” and served as an invitation to court functions which provided instructions for correct behavior and ceremonial observations while they were guests of the King and Queen at court. Today the meaning of etiquette has again evolved to define polite behavior in society.

Regardless of where the true history of etiquette originated, it’s definition of “ticket” beautifully defines the essence of the word. Proper conduct, proper behavior, politeness and kindness which are the heartbeat of etiquette can serve as a “ticket” that can open doors of opportunity when properly utilized. A colleague of mine who also teaches etiquette for a living shared with me that on many occasions this special “ticket” has served her well in business and in her personal life; not only opening doors for her, but it has opened doors for those who have learned from her expertise as well. She shared that years ago she and her husband were invited to a house party of one of her friends. She and her husband struck up a conversation with a young man in his teens who was sitting alone and enjoyed a friendly exchange with him.. Some time later a woman walked up to my colleague and said, “Thank you for talking to my son. At some of these events my son is the only teen and the adults don’t really speak to him.” This woman is a well known singer and actress who requested my friends services to teach her son etiquette a short time later. I am not implying that etiquette is some sort of magic wand that will guarantee that you will meet famous people (though it could happen) or that it will make all the “bad” go away, but I am saying that when we take the time to treat ourselves and others well, it creates opportunities to build relationships or at the least it will serve as an inspiration for others to do better.


While only 5 lucky children got the “Golden Ticket” to Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. Everyone can use etiquette as the ticket to help create golden opportunities in their life and the lives of others.

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