One of the guidelines of behavior I attempt to maintain is a working application of the difference between being friendly and being familiar (or being friends). On the surface it sounds complicated, but I have found that doing so has helped me to become more professional in the process of everyday transactions. This is important to me because although you may always be familiar with those close to you, you needn’t be familiar with just anyone, such as grocery cashiers, salesman, and people who queue with you. However, you can always be friendly no matter what; the key is to know how far to go without crossing the boundary of acting like friends when you are really just strangers or acquaintances.
With my family and friends, I already know what the boundaries and comfort levels are of the various relationships. Therefore, the purpose of this post is to give my basic guidelines for being friendly to those not close to me without my being familiar. The first thing I do is make a pleasant face upon making eye contact with any person. Not only does this put my best face forward and enhance my image, it is also courteous to others who did nothing to deserve a scowl or glare. I don’t necessarily initiate a smile at everyone, depending on the feeling I get at the moment. The reason is that I don’t want to appear too glib or naive or to be encouraging unwanted attention. I also don’t think it’s realistic to walk around with a 24/7 pasted on smile, and when I try that, it looks fake. I do try to return all smiles I’m given. The technicalities of facial expressions vary amongst us all, and I don’t expect anyone to follow my preferences exactly. This is just the way that has been right for me.
The second way I distinguish between friendliness and familiarity is in greeting. I am not the type that waves for no reason at strangers while driving. I wave to thank and that’s it. I have lived in areas where waving at every random pickup truck that passed on the dirt road was the thing to do, and I don’t think it’s wrong. It’s just a level of familiarity with strangers that I don’t feel obligated to maintain. I don’t greet people in person for no reason. I don’t go up to random cute children, polished women, or handsome men and gush all over them. I feel like they didn’t come to the gift shop or the cafe to be greeted by me, another customer. You can tell by my tone that nothing like that has ever happened to me and my family before. 🙂 I always try to return a greeting when spoken to me–that’s basic courtesy. I always greet (and try to be the first to greet) people I have chosen to interact with, such as those I am on hand to do business with, or someone whose assistance I need. I try not to start any conversation with someone without an appropriate greeting first (such as, “Excuse me, ma’am, could you tell me where the peanut butter is?” instead of “Where is the peanut butter? “).
Besides greeting, interactions with strangers also involve addressing them. My preference here is for “ma’am” and “sir” for anyone who looks above 18 or so. I cannot abide being referred to as “miss,” “miz,” “hun,” “sweetheart,” “mom,” or “hey you” and thus do not call others by these epitaphs. Again, your mileage may vary, but I feel the pitfall of familiarity is avoided completely by using the formal “ma’am” and “sir.”
After greeting and addressing someone a conversation usually follows. Sometimes the conversation is crucial to the interaction, such as discussing options for a major household purchase, and other times it occurs to pass the time, such as while the groceries are scanned. This is the time that many people, mostly inadvertently I’m sure, cross the boundary between being friendly and being familiar. I never feel obligated to share personal information such as names, ages, school enrollment, addresses, occupations, etc. This is my preference; I’m not paranoid that the person interrogating my children on their school’s name and grade level is going to stalk them. I just think that as a whole society needs to go back to minding its own business, and the details of my life simply do not have to be shared with anyone who pleases. Last Friday night, I made a late grocery run and encountered a chatty cashier at the evening’s end. He asked me if I had any plans for the weekend. I replied that I have plans most days. He said, “Aren’t you going to tell me what they are?” I replied that no, I don’t share personal details with grocery cashiers; I prefer that they just do their job and that they not attempt to make friends with me.
This is probably sounding really cold going up on the internet. But I really would be happy if customers and service providers alike would just focus on accomplishing their intended purpose without adding unnecessary familiarity to the process. The way my personality is (woman? introvert? who knows), any sort of personal interaction requires an emotional effort from me, and I prefer to reserve that effort for my actual friends and people I care about. I also easily get flustered so keeping things professional definitely makes life easier for me. And even though I think being friendly is a good idea, I would rather someone be a bit gruff and taciturn than that they go on and on grilling me about my life. I’m just trying to buy the food, people!
I have always liked doing things the fancy way and admire the look of things carefully arranged and beautifully displayed. When I was in eleventh grade I dined at the Signature Room in Chicago and observed the individually folded hand towels in the elegant ladies’ restroom. That inspired me to display my bathroom wash cloths rolled up in a basket on the counter instead of folded flat and kept out of sight in a drawer. In the past I displayed dry goods in glass jars on the counter, although lately it has just been flour. Although it will take me years of perfecting, I am pursuing the fascinating art of arranging my everyday items as part of my household decor. It is also perfect for me as I have never been a fan of a lot of purely decorative, useless objects sitting around serving as decor.
One of the areas I have struggled with since I married was making my bed. Not that I was unwilling to do so, but after I would finish it, the bed would never look as nice as I thought it should. After investing in down comforters, cotton sheets, and down pillows, I was sad that the bed just did not look as inviting and beautiful as it should. Some days, I would not even make the bed because the results did not seem worth the effort! Then last month when I was reading through a home decor magazine and thinking how unrealistic the staged beds looked, I realized that maybe the designers arrange them that way for a reason. I learned to make a bed as a child, and it included pulling the covers up over the pillows with a fancy tuck under them. While this method worked great for flat pillows and thin blankets, it did not with fluffy down accessories. So I tried making the bed the way I saw it in the magazine: Sheet pulled up, comforter turned down a quarter to a third of the way down the bed, pillows standing up on edge arranged by color and pattern, and a throw blanket (in my case an afghan from my great grandma) at the foot of the bed for color and added sumptuousness. The result? My ordinary bed now looks, to me at least, like the fancy beds of magazines, warm, inviting, beautifully arranged–and it takes no longer to make! I am glad to have added one more way to make my home beautiful without having to buy anything or adopt a complicated routine.
Do you like doing things the fancy way? How do you incorporate this into your life? How do you like to artfully arrange your possessions? I love hearing your thoughts, and as always, thank you for reading The Well Bred Woman in Progress.
When I think of the proper, polite, and poised woman, images of beautifully written thank you notes and demurely murmured thanks upon receiving compliments immediately come to mind. Showing proper gratitude is essential to the well bred woman, and she goes a step beyond rendering thanks by valuing the contributions of others. The way to value other’s gifts and services begins with the proper attitude, followed by the proper reception of the gift, in addition to merely saying the words “thank you.”
To begin with, a well bred woman never belittles the contributions of others. Some months ago I read a news article a blog author whose family had fallen on hard times and chose to participate in food stamps. One day the food stamp machine was not working and a stranger paid their $18+/- bill in cash so that she and her children could get some lunch. She then wrote an effusive blog post to the woman in the line behind her at the grocery store, purporting to thank her but mostly extolling to the public how pitiful her own situation was. To my surprise this woman’s blog post was held up in other news articles, as it dashed through its fifteen minutes of fame, as a wonderful example of deep gratitude and heartfelt thanks. While initially appearing to be a heartwarming post, I found myself taken aback by the author’s presumptuous dismissal of the act of kindness rendered her. Her post, written letter style to the person who helped her, referred three times to her assumption that the act of generosity was no big deal to the benefactress. Essentially, the letter said the woman knew it did not hurt her benefactress to help her; that the kind stranger helped because it was easy and painless for her, not a sacrifice. I understand that the author was probably trying to overemphasize how grateful she was to make the benefactress feel gratified, should she ever read the post herself. However, it is not anyone’s place to assume how much or how little another’s charitable act may have cost them. To assume that those mere extra 18 dollars was pocket change for the person who helped her was to assume that only wealthy people are generous and that common, middle class folks never help those less fortunate. But the truth is that the person who donates $5, $10, or $20 dollars is often choosing to forgo something themselves in order to be a blessing to others; maybe they will eat soup for dinner instead of a meat or fish meal, or perhaps they will not be able to have dessert for a few days or go on an outing on which they had planned to purchase convenience foods. Also, studies have shown that poor to middle class people—those who can least afford it—actually donate a higher percentage of their money than higher income earners. Therefore, I found the exaggerated references to how it must have really been no big deal to be insulting and most likely false according to statistics. The well bred woman does not assume that someone is helping her out of excess or ease. Most people who help do it out of a genuine desire to give their time, talents, and treasure, not because it is easy or effortless.
Make a good faith effort
The well bred woman puts good faith into another’s effort by making her own efforts to accept the gift thoughtfully. If someone offers to help or contribute, she makes it as easy for them as she can. For example, I recently volunteered to play the piano at someone’s wedding; when I requested that I be included in the rehearsal, I was told that I did not need to come because my “job would be easy.” The lack of a proper rehearsal not only caused stress on the ceremony’s participants but also made the ceremony go contrary to the plan. A few years ago I volunteered, several weeks in advance, to arrange flowers for another friend’s wedding; about 6:00 on the night before the wedding, the bride’s mother called me to accept the offer; they had not even started yet. The groom’s mother and I were up until 2 AM arranging the flowers! Another wedding a couple of years ago at which I promised to arrange flowers, the groom was supposed to be my assistant but instead of helping me he dealt with a personal issue with the bride the entire day. I helped out of a genuine friendship for the brides, and it is inappropriate to complain about how it went. However, I could not help but notice the theme in all three cases, one that is all too common in many places, is that people are not showing gratitude to the gifts and services of others by matching the efforts of those helping. While it is true that people do not help just because it is easy, someone receiving a gift or help should try to make it as easy as possible for the one helping them. Especially in cases where a well bred woman accepts the help of another’s services, she should make her best effort to provide the proper time frame and opportunity to her helper. This goes farther than any form of thanks after the fact.
The well bred woman thanks in a timely fashion and makes straightforward remarks instead of falling all over herself in effusive thanks. I know some people are naturally bubbly and everything they say is extra heartfelt, but it is highly unattractive for the average person to react in an exaggerated fashion to another’s kindness. Statements such as, “Oh, I can’t believe you would do that for me!” or “You shouldn’t have!” or “You are too kind!” would best be eliminated from a well bred woman’s vocabulary. On one hand, she is implying that the benefactor is acting out of character, which is insulting, and on the other hand she is displaying false humility, as if of all people to walk the earth she were the least deserving of a kindness. Such extreme statements, though unintentional, skew the fact that all people are equally capable of rendering a kindness and deserving of one.
When thanking, a well bred woman focuses on the point of her gratitude: a simple expression of thanks for the gifts or services she received. She realizes that not everyone needs to know about the transaction and therefore keeps public thank you’s to a minimum; personally, I do not feel there is ever a place to acknowledge a private contribution publicly but nowadays people often expect that. Church announcement times are half consumed at times by reading the latest list of volunteers and givers, while special events bulletins have a page or two of names written in thanks. I am sure some people think this is just a nice gesture—”what’s the harm?”—but as a deed or gift passed between two people should be between them, so should the thanks. Too often I have seen people print perfunctory notes on the back of their wedding bulletins or flash a Facebook status of tagged names without even personally thanking their benefactor themselves. Some other things to consider about public thanks is that it
A) exposes the giver to others who may be looking for a handout;
B) brings attention, often unwanted, to someone who wanted to stay in the background, and
C) elevates competition and drives the social politics in so many circles today.
The thank-you note: to send or not to send?
I was raised in a family where thank-you notes were next to godliness. Well, not quite, but it was a cardinal sin to not send a written thank-you note for each and every gift, experience, or act of service received. To show the extreme some people I knew went to, if a kind and generous benefactor didn’t receive a thank-you note for the Christmas gifts sent that year, next year there would be no gifts from said person! This was even in the context of a huge family gathering that involved all the gift givers and receivers being together, providing ample opportunity to thank in person. Before I was even 10 years old, I experienced a family member’s telling my mother that my thank-you notes sounded methodical and boring. So from then on, my mother had us use a different adjective to describe every present we got; instead of “Thanks for the great Christmas presents!” or “Thanks for the nice socks, puzzles, picture book, and sheet set” it was “Thank you for the comfortable socks, the interesting puzzles, the colorful picture book, and the soft sheet set.” Bonus points if you used different color pens for each phrase. It was outrageous! So naturally I have been a bit leery of thank-you notes since entering adulthood, though I have withdrawn from all guilt ridden relationships involving gifts with strings attached. However, the thank-you note seems to be a popular thing and you cannot deny that people love receiving them. Not to mention, it can be a genuine form of expressing thanks. After a few years of not sending any at all, I have tried to get back in the habit of writing them, especially for physical gifts and to people who live far away. I do not write one for every little kind act or even every gift, but for birthday and holiday gifts I attempt it. I often stick to thanking in person for people I see regularly and I consider that just fine for a well bred woman in progress.
In summary, the well bred woman cultivates an attitude of gratitude throughout the process of receiving gifts and services from others and expresses her thanks in a genuine manner reflective of her unique personality, not simply to check off a “good manners” box or to earn points for more gifts in the future.
*Sometimes I write something I feel is enlightening, then read it through and almost do not publish it for fear that it is stating too much “obvious.” However that may be, a hallmark of a well bred woman is, I believe, to utilize common sense no matter how simple it may seem; from that place came the following article.
We have all heard not to let our personal lives get too involved in the workplace. One practical way a well bred woman can apply this advice to her life is by not putting her boss on a pedestal of admiration. Recently a friend of mine quit her job due to her employers’ unethical practices; while I applaud her decision to stand up for what is right no matter the risk, I was saddened to hear how close my friend had grown to her bosses, particularly a woman whom she spoke of as her “mentor.” Having had such a strong emotional attachment to her boss and a preconceived, too optimistic idea of her character, my friend grieved the separation more acutely, feeling betrayed by her boss’s actions. After thinking it over, I concluded that naming a boss as a mentor is generally not a good idea for many reasons, not all of which will apply in every employment situation. However, for most people employed for pay, not in a non-profit, internship, or apprenticeship position, the following summarizes why keeping one’s emotional distance from one’s boss is the best decision for everyone.
First of all, a woman and her boss have a vested interest in each other that ends in dollars and cents, or in performance and overhead. Basically she is there for the paycheck, no matter how much she loves her job, and her boss hired her for her working abilities and to further their own purpose as the head of, and probably top earner of, the company. In other words, the boss wants to set the course of direction for the company and she is interested in perpetuating her business, along with making the highest profit possible in line with her morals. As long as the relationship between two people depends on their ability to profit (or detract) from each other financially, the relationship is too awkward for any sort of emotional dependency to properly develop.
As if that was not enough statement of the obvious, a person is at work to work, after all. Her boss is there to manage. Although she may spend eight hours straight shoulder to shoulder in a small office with a lot of “down time” between customers that includes chatting, it is still not like chatting with a friend or neighbor whom she met with for that purpose. The chatting is secondary to the job, not the main focus, so even though there may be a lot of it and the topics may go very deep, it is not “meant to be.” Usually older people have a word of advice in most situations, and younger people are eager to spread their affections to anyone they admire, as well as over share their personal life, but the hours spent in work are not for the purpose of bonding.
A third and often overlooked reason why bonding and over sharing at work is inadvisable is that people often display a very narrow side of their character at work. Many people I have interacted with both inside and outside of the workplace have a “work face” and “work character” that they display only at work. Some people
1) Follow the rules at work because of the accountability; they fear getting caught. They are also more likely to appear to be a rule follower at first but end up being the type to fudge lines when they think no one knows or it does not matter.
2) Give lots of energy and attentiveness to their coworkers because they are trying to promote a happier, smoother work environment for themselves. In other words, many people think that they can either be the person who sits there and silently fumes while their employee talks on and on about her personal life, or they can be the person who puts in an opinion occasionally in an attempt to act interested, inadvertently appearing more interested than they really are. Of course, those are not the only two possible reactions but to people who view things in extremes, they may seem so.
3) Appear wise or professional simply because they have smoothly assimilated into their company’s image and role, such as a package deliverer, pizza baker, chiropractor, florist, or dental hygienist. In fact, in other areas of life they may be vastly lacking in knowledge, wisdom, or the experiences their employee has had.
When a woman bonds with her boss, therefore, the person she sees may only be a small slice of their total person and may not at all be the person she wishes to be foisting the status of mentor upon. And it does not really make sense to follow someone simply because they are there, while too often the person being admired and leaned upon will tacitly accept his or her role in a woman’s life without true thought to the responsibility it entails.
To avoid naming a boss as her mentor, therefore, the well bred woman will pursue professional behavior by meeting her personal needs first in her life, although not in the workplace. She will remain a bit aloof or formal at work, knowing that if she wishes, she can still indulge a natural tendency to be warm, friendly, and caring without investing too much emotion. For those who wish a mentor, trusted confidant or advisors should be sought from their circle of acquaintances and friends beyond the workplace. While at work, a woman ought to temper her admiration for her boss who has not consciously committed to being the emotionally supportive, wise advisor that is expected in a mentor. To avoid giving too much of herself emotionally and becoming attached to someone who does not reciprocate, a dedicated employee will pay mindful attention to the way she spends her time at work. When faced with too much down time, she may find that there are other responsibilities to attend to that a more chatty employee would neglect; if there really is nothing to do for a few minutes’ stretches here and there, she could ask the boss for more responsibilities or pursue some small, quiet hobby instead of filling each empty minute with conversation.
P.S. Here in the South, people talk a lot: to their friends, to strangers, to everyone all the time. I think that is why Southerners are often portrayed as being friendly, although at some point it usually crosses the line of behaving too familiarly. I wonder how different things are up North or on the Coasts or out West; do any of my readers have experience with the workplace, particularly offices, being constant chat parties? I have often had to wait at a business to be assisted while the employee on duty finishes up her conversation with a co-worker. It is a bit bewildering!
I have always loved reading about the accomplished young ladies of Victorian times. Some examples of the accomplishments young women could develop are as follows: drawing, playing an instrument, singing, painting with water colors, dancing, needlework, jewelry making, tending houseplants or small animals, cooking, and sewing clothing. A book I recently read about that time period, Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England, indicated that doing such things served no real purpose but was rather the “thing to do,” done simply because it was done. Yet, it is clear, especially from the fictional writings of the 19th century, that an accomplished young lady led a happy and successful social life. After all, her family would have had to have been of at least modest means in order for her to have enough free time apart from chores to pursue extra endeavors. Also, the choice for a woman to pursue specialized studies indicated that her family was mindful of socially acceptable standards and was thus a well bred family. In addition, in those days, having experience in one or more art could also serve as a potential means to attract friends or suitors. Finally, for a woman to become accomplished, it meant that she possessed many admirable character traits.
Let us take a closer look at these characteristics. First of all, a person seeking to become accomplished develops self-discipline, as it takes day after day of consistently learning and practicing to master a skill. Patience is also necessary as one deals with hurdles and setbacks while gradually moving closer to the goal of a completed masterpiece. Mastery of the art, not perfection, is the goal. Attention to detail is a mentally sharpening skill that one develops through carefully making handiwork, art, or music. Having a specialized area of study stimulates creativity and imagination, sparking an individual’s vision, heart, and soul. Cultivating a skill will cultivate an appreciation of beauty in a person, so vital for enhancing the joy and pleasure one finds in her daily walk on this earth. Lastly, learning a new skill yields one a personal sense of accomplishment as projects are completed or pieces of music or dance are mastered. When much of everyone’s life involves doing the same thing every day, like driving the same commute, cleaning up the same messes, turning in the same reports, or following the same personal care routine, having an activity with visible, never-before-reached results is encouraging and exciting!
Although we may not refer to specialized skills or hobbies as “accomplishments” today, elegant, feminine women nowadays still pursue fine arts. Because she enjoys creating beauty and personal satisfaction apart from the mundane daily routine, the well bred woman typically pursues at least one hobby in order to add beauty and refinement to her life. After all, a well bred woman’s life involves more than just surviving–i.e., paying the bills, keeping herself and her space clean–it extends toward beautifying her surroundings, exercising her mental capacities, and bringing joy and delight to herself and others. This she does through the pursuit of accomplishments. As for me, I absolutely love the fine arts, and have played piano for over 20 years. I have recently begun developing my singing voice in my local church’s choir, and my dream is to someday learn to play the harp. I have cross stitched for nearly two decades, and, similar to my puzzle obsession, I enjoy cross stitching patterns of Thomas Kinkade’s glorious paintings. I also enjoy flower gardening and have recently begun refinishing my second-hand furniture myself in order to bring out the natural beauty of the wood and complement my home decor.
Examples of modern day accomplishments or hobbies include jewelry making, DIY furniture and crafts, sewing, needlework, gardening, music, writing, scrap booking, and child care. What do you do, or what are you interested in pursuing, in order to become an accomplished woman?
In the imagination of many women, including me, the proper, well-bred lady always buys the finest things and chooses quality over quantity. Today’s post encompasses some of the reasons for this approach. It is important for a woman to always know why she does something, and she should not choose to buy fancy or expensive items simply out of a desire to imitate wealthy, wise, or well-bred women (terms that are all desirable but will not necessarily all apply to any given person simultaneously; if you had to pick one, go with the last). Around here such copycats who value pizzazz and expense are termed “yuppies.” The well-bred woman, however, may have a small home in an older neighborhood and drive a well-maintained car several years old, while recycling fashion pieces from year to year. But she may still have an abundance of high-quality, costly items; in fact, it might be a better long term choice for someone of lower economic status to invest so.
First of all, higher quality items last longer, are better made, are more beautiful or comely, and have better warranty or return options. They often come from companies who care as much about the customer as they do their bottom line, and better customer service is generally the standard for an item one must pay more for. Would a woman rather have twenty cheap shirts from the mall that fall apart in the washing machine after eleven washes or two tailored silk blouses that she has to either hand wash or dry clean, but will last many years with proper care?
Second, purchasing higher quality items often supports better business practices, such as local and home businesses run by individuals instead of corporations, and also fair trade practices. Having a high ethical standard herself, along with a devotion to the greater good of her community and the world, the well-bred woman is happy to choose higher quality items from businesses who deserve her patronage.
Third, purchasing higher quality items would often mean a women of limited means must purchase fewer items overall, which will bring about discernment and self-discipline. These admirable character traits are unfortunately lacking in the US today. A woman would spend money less often, saving it up and carefully weighing her decisions. Instead of running out and buying things regularly, she would learn to improvise and make do with what she has, as well as care for her possessions longer because it hurts more to replace or repair them.
Fourth, the well-bred woman spends her money on quality objects to signify her recognition of the work and sacrifice that either she or her husband or other provider put into earning that money. After her husband has worked many long hours a week, dealing with stress on all sides, a thoughtful woman would not hasten to spend his hard earned money on too many trivial or disposable items! By respecting her purchases, she respects the person or persons in the family who earn the money. By purchasing things of high intrinsic value, she demonstrates the value she places upon the work accomplished to earn the family’s income.
I have often wondered if lower middle class people in the US remain in the same socioeconomic position for years due to habitually paying “the lowest price” for everything. I wonder if they ever stop to notice how routinely they must replace things, how unhealthy and ultimately unsatisfying cheap foodstuffs are, or how many more things they are willing to buy since they spend so seemingly little on everything. But this blog is not the place to provide an in-depth analysis on my economic musings. Still, I wonder…