By Laura Fantarella – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent
Looking people in the eye when she was introduced, holding open doors, saying ‘please,’ ‘thank-you,’ and a respectful ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am to address her elders are just a few of the social graces Denise Rock learned as a child growing up in South Carolina.
This week she hopes to make old-fashioned etiquette fashionable as she shares her Southern upbringing with Beecher Road School students in her new, eight-week “Manners Club” that will take place once a week at 7 a.m. at the school. Rock emphasizes she is not implying students aren’t learning manners at home, she wants to reinforce what they already know and fine-tune things a bit. In this digital age when kids have less face to face interaction and everyone retires to “their own corners,” Rock wants to show kids how good manners may make for a kinder society. Students will learn the importance of greetings and first impressions – how to shake hands and make proper introductions; how to give and receive compliments; and the way to correctly set a dining table. She’ll even touch on the near-obsolete practice of handwritten thank you notes to show appreciation for a gift or dinner party. “We’ll talk about why it’s important to say hello and goodbye and those magic words, ‘please and thank you’,” Rock said. “We all live by a code of conduct, and self-respect promotes the art of respecting each other.” That focus is expected to promote even more benefits – like building kids’ self-confidence and even helping to eliminate bullying. “Hopefully kids will bring it back to classroom,” Rock said.
Rock explains that the word ‘etiquette’ was actually derived from the French word that once represented the “ticket” that members of society needed to attend social events. The ticket indicated that the bearer had the knowledge to function properly in society. “It ensured everyone who attended the event was walking the same line. Right now there is no ‘ticket’ and everyone is doing their own thing,” she said. Even something as basic as holding a fork is no longer second nature because one of the skills that actually helped train children – practicing penmanship with a pen or pencil – is obsolete as kids now type on keyboards.
There are few situations that can’t be made more enjoyable when people practice good manners and Rock has offered her services in the past in a variety of different venues. She has hosted lunch time workshops for staff at Yale University in business etiquette; run basic manners classes at summer camps for children; and even dining etiquette at local senior centers before the holidays. Classes are tailored to the students. “In a business situation, there’s ‘cubicle’ etiquette; keeping your voice down, respecting the person next to you; forgoing that lunch at your desk that may smell offensive,” Rock explained. “You may think you’re outfit is really hot but is it appropriate business attire? It’s not the environment to have a butt cheek or your tattoos hanging out!”
In the dining etiquette class for seniors Rock has participants eat in front of a mirror placed on the table in front of them. “I point out that that’s what the person across the table from you sees when you’re eating so be mindful of that,” Rock said. “There’s time to eat and to have a conversation with others. No one wants to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a frail senior.” Rock also encourages grandparents to take the lead once again in their families by teaching good table manners and how to set a dining table to their grandchildren. “Everyone is busy today and families don’t sit down and dine together as often as they once did,” she pointed out.
The inspiration to hold a manners club at the elementary school came, in part, from the “cotillion training program” Rock’s son took part in when he was a student at an all-boys private school. “They were taught manners and even social dancing like how to waltz and foxtrot. I realized there was nothing like that in the community,” Rock said. So far the registration has been steady and Rock is confident she will be running two full classes – one for children in kindergarten through third grade and one for those in grades four through six.
Perhaps after completing her course parents will receive the compliments about their children that Rock often heard when her own son and daughter were growing up. “Good manners are always recognized, and I was always proud when other parents would call and say my children had good manners,” she said.