Oh, Behave!

It’s easy to think that decorum went out with Emily Post, but Pamela Hillings insists proper etiquette never loses its luster
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Los Angeles magazine, October 2008

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Photograph by Ramona Rosales

Manners in a Minute: Dining

Why are manners important?
People judge a book by its cover. When they first meet you, it’s your handshake, eye contact, and smile that matter. You have seven to ten seconds to make that first impression.

So after that I can just slack off?
No. Manners have to be a consistent part of your vocabulary. It’s not about what fork to use, though that helps. The main thing is to treat others with respect.

What about when they’re not treating me with respect—like talking loudly on a cell phone? 
If the person is with you—he’s your lunch date, for example—excuse yourself and leave, because you don’t know how long the conversation is going to go on. If they’re not a companion of yours, I would just glance in their direction and smile. They’ll figure it out. You can be assertive and still be polite.

How do I maintain manners in an e-mail?
Write e-mails as if they’re letters. Don’t use abbreviations like “r u going?” Don’t send jokes from your work e-mail. Always try to err on the formal side.

I’m going to a dinner party. What are no-no’s in hostess gifts?
Don’t bring flowers—they’ll have to stop their work and find a vase.

How do I introduce two people to each other if I don’t remember their names? 
Hold out your hand and say, “Hi,” then say your name. Ninety-nine percent of the time they’ll respond with theirs. Then say, “Have you two met? Why don’t you introduce yourselves?” Don’t ever say, “Wait—don’t tell me your name.” You never want to put someone in an awkward position.

What’s the most polite way to talk to a dinner guest whom you don’t know?

Photograph by Ramona Rosales