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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Patron Saint of Etiquette is You

Dearest Sister,

I need your help! Who is the patroness of etiquette? There is a new teacher at my daughter's school who is (and I hate to say this) annoying. She was hired because her qualifications are impeccable, her recommendations - glowing. She must have done well during her interview. (Most anyone can hold it together for 45 minutes when being interviewed.)I've been to see the principal, and he is beside himself! The poor teacher simply seems not to know any etiquette, and now she is under contract for the whole year. The principal says that unless she does something (or fails to do something) specifically stated in her contract, he really has no grounds to let her go. It seems our institutions of higher learning are allowing basic skills to go by the wayside. How can it be that someone holds a Masters degree, yet she mispronounces several basic, English words. For example: Ek-specially. Wunst-a-while (once in a while) Prolly (probably) and koont (couldn't). This is a person for whom English IS the first language. Additionally, she chews gum with her mouth open (in my day, we didn't dare chew gum!) sits with her legs apart, and interrupts people when they are speaking by talking over them. She can get very loud. And, when she laughs (usually at her own jokes) it sounds more like grunting or cackling. The other teachers do not know how to bring these things to her attention without hurting her feelings, so everyone just avoids her. I could say more, but I would much prefer to simply leave it at that. Any advice? Where can I find a good book on professional etiquette! The principal says he plans to let her go when her contract expires (she thinks it is because enrollment is going down) but he has written a glowing recommendation for her, hoping to dump his problem on someone else. He does not feel the least bit guilty over it, because he is sure that her last employer did exactly that, which is how he got saddled with her. I am trying to teach my daughter the importance of good manners so she will be successful in the world. I tell her that first impressions make lasting impressions, and that good manners are a way that we can all show respect and charity toward one another. On the upside, being around this person causes me to take a serious look at myself and ask what I may be doing that is annoying to others. I know that when we point a finger at someone else, we are pointing 3 back at ourselves. However, if someone doesn't do something to help this poor young lady, she will go from job to job, and may never realize that she simply lacks good manners!
Thank you so much for your time,

That's quite a list.  Yes, you could buy her a book on etiquette, but then she'll just know which fork to use and how to write a proper thank you note.

Here's what you can't do: tell her she 'laughs wrong'.  I'm sorry you don't care to hear her laugh, but people laugh how they laugh, hyena, donkey or howler monkey.

I would try an entirely different tactic.  Love her, warts and all. The poor thing seems to have no friends.  Her off putting laugh, her gum chomping and overbearing style of conversation has made her a social pariah, which is a never ending spiral of loneliness and misunderstanding.  Perhaps if there was someone who could be a little more tolerant, just a little more tolerant, that person would have her ear and then that person could say things like, "Oh, darling, watch out with your knees there! We can see all the way to the Jupiter..."  or  "Excuse me, I wasn't finished making my point. If you would just let me finish."  A friend can tell her, "I don't care much to talk to you when you talk over me."

I do grow weary of the the phrase, "What would Jesus do?"  but He did have some difficult people around him. Today is the feast day of St. Mark, the Evangelist.  St. Mark had traveled with St. Paul and after that St. Paul specifically requested that St. Mark not travel with him on the next trip.  Perhaps St. Mark was a gum chewing over talker.  Maybe he snored.

But in the end, St. Paul asked Mark to visit him in prison.  We'll never know if Paul asked Mark to take that gum out of his mouth.

Also, make another list.  The list of things she does well.  The list of things that are lovable about her.

I can tell you this: it takes a brave person to befriend the social pariah.  Because a person who befriends a social pariah runs the risk of becoming a social pariah themselves.

Jesus was a bit of a social pariah, precisely for this reason.  I guess we now know what He would do.


Amy said...

sorry, I don't know the saint of the day but thank you for your answer to this. It is so hard to love the unlovable and it's great to be reminded that if we are to live as Jesus lived, that is exactly what we are called to do.

bearing said...

I find it rather shocking that this letter writer claims that the teacher's employer shared with the letter writer what is undoubtedly confidential information regarding the teacher's employment.

Now that is what I call rude!

Kyra Kramer said...

Hi. I am an anthropologist, and the "etiquette" this woman is upset about has nothing to with education or intelligence; it has to do with socio-cultural training. If this teacher's parents were lower-income, then very likely she never learned the "correct" way that the middle-calls dictates people "should" behave. This is a serious stumbling block for upward social mobility, and is partly to explain why it is harder for people coming from poor backgrounds to get, and keep, jobs.I am sure the person who wrote to you is not intentionally trying to punish the teacher for a lower-class upbringing, and is simply responding viscerally to the lack of "normal" behavior, which is very emotionally jarring for humans. Nevertheless, discriminating against the teacher because she chews gum with her mouth open and laughs "too loud" for a woman would be a very unjust act.

hekates said...

The way the words are pronounced could be a regional accent thing, or a speech impediment. Contrary to popular belief, speech therapy does not mean the speech problems disappear all the time. My son has a speech impediment (which actually gives him a Cockney accent) which reappears when he is tired, or very stressed. Which this teacher may be, as she seems to be surrounded by a jury about to pronounce her GUILTY!
The principal can ask her to set a good example for the students by not chewing gum.

None of these seem to me to be reasons to be fired or even evidence of bad teaching.

Mary Bennett said...

I suggest reading The Story of a Soul which tells how St Therese dealt with annoying, fractious and picayune nuns

Gigi said...

@ Mary Bennet - "The Story of a Soul" is fantastic I agree!
I'm concerned about the lack of confidentiality demonstrated here by the employer: if I was the parent of a pupil there I would be more concerned about that.
I have friends whose laughs cause migraines and once even made me jump so much I drop a glass. I would rather hear loud laughter than the lack of it.
And I totally agree that loving someone "warts and all" is the only way to love; a win-win for all concerned.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but would you want this person teaching your child?

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should pray to St. Joseph, the Worker - as this concerns a situation at work.

As Sister said in her post before this one,

"Meanwhile, we turn to St. Joseph the Worker, our patron saint of workers. Granted, he didn't have someone in the next cubicle snapping their gum and making personal phone calls at the top of their lungs and eating whatever food is in the break room whether it belongs to them or not." That "someone in the next cubicle" is the annoying person (and we all have one) at work. Yes, let's love them - and help them to change! And in the process, may we learn to see our own shortcomings and work to correct them, for the love of our co-workers.

Anonymous said...

But, personal habits aside, is she a good teacher? Isn't that what matters most?

Anonymous said...

@ Kyra Kramer
I am really bothered by your analysis of "lower class" upbringing. I know there were people worse off than myself and my siblings growing up but not in my hometown. My mother wouldn't have put up with gum smacking, leg splaying or rude conversation behavior. Lower class does not mean Low Class or No Class.
The word mispronumciations could indicate early generation English speaking, my husband's father is first generation American and made many of the same mistakes, his family is not lower class.
There really still are good reasons for such things as finishing schools and physical grace and charm classes since parents don't teach such things in the home.....where have we heard that before?

Anonymous said...

I WOULD want this well educated and qualified woman teaching my child!!!

A few rough edges are nothing to be scared of. Love a true laugh. A fake or contained laugh is a much more fearsome thing. And etiquette is nothing if kindness does not lay underneath. Work retail for a week, and that lesson will be all too clear.

In my opinion the original poster has gone far beyond just being annoyed by this teacher. She or he has sought out the principle and engaged him or her in gossip that could be damaging. To cost a person her job in this economy is equal to removing food and housing from her. That's down right mean and wrong. And could be considered a sin worthy of confession in its own right.

There are much greater wrongs in this world. If these are the ones that are sticking in your craw, consider yourself Blessed.

My apologies for the lengthy response to this. It struck a sore spot with me as it smacks of grown-up bullying.

I'll be praying for all involved here.

And for the record: Gum chewing (or rather chomping)has become VERY common, even by folks who have otherwise pristine manners. I work with the public. I see it daily. I don't like it either, but not enough to be really bothered by it.

SAC said...

Oh, please no one's hair catch on fire!

I am a teacher. I am also a member of a less-socially-adept, lower-economic-class family of origin.

I just remember feeling for so much of my childhood like I, myself, was not acceptable as a human being because of social moires that others had been trained in but which I and mine were clueless about. As I grew older, I became better and better at identifying what others found acceptable or not; to this day some of these things strike me as just plain weird (brown and black look fine together, to me) and others make more sense (I don't always love the smell of onions at all times, either). Either way, I now follow many of these conventions, and when I don't, I do so in the full understanding that some people will be put off by my nonconformity to their ways, and very often I will take steps to ameliorate their chagrin.

The thing is, I absolutely agree with SMM: I have wished, a million times over, that someone-- or lots of someones-- could have kindly, gently, respectfully told me about what they thought about how people should behave. What I got more often, as I mentioned, was a feeling that I was inherently not acceptable, and I knew (because I had been taught that my Heavenly Father loves me) that this couldn't be true. Even when I did believe it, it didn't so much fuel any desire to conform to others' weird standards as a sense of depression and, on occasion, rebellion.

Strange though it sounds, one of the main modes of that rebellion became a habit of serious scripture study; it still is. Many of the prophets, and especially the Savior Himself (as SMM has mentioned) were iconoclasts.

I now spend a portion my days teaching basic math to college students. Many of these people feel like failures to themselves, at least in this area; they think they are stupid not to know this stuff already, and spend inordinate amounts of emotional energy beating themselves up about it. I try to gently redirect this energy to hopefulness for the future, and point out that this stuff is tricky, but when you actually know how to perform a complicated task, it can be fun.

What does this have to do with knowing how to conform socially? Well, I have spent so much time thinking about and working on how I deal with others that I have surprised myself a couple of times in the past few years by noticing that I had handled an interaction well; better, in fact, than others. By this I mean that I figured out how to be kind, make someone comfortable, make someone laugh, etc. in a social situation where that was difficult to figure out, and I was quicker on the uptake than others whom I would normally expected to outsrip me in this area. I was rather consternated by this the first time it happened, and the second, but I have finally decided that it must be because I recognized I had a weakness, and have just kept working on it for, literally, the past twenty years.

The scripture study helped me recognize that I need not just to have a survival attitude; I need to actively influence the situations I find myself in. To give just one example, a lot of people think you can pick either honesty or kindness when you are dealing with others, and it is true that picking JUST one or the other is pretty easy, but the high-skill option involves marrying these in a way that violates the integrity of neither. So difficult! But so incredibly satisfying when you finally manage to get it right.

SAC said...

Like I haven't said enough yet, but I was re-reading the end of my last comment and wanted to clarify:

The social moire says, "I need to be kind here, so I'm going to have to lie" or, alternatively, "this situation calls for honesty, so I'm just going to have to hurt her feelings;" and I have discovered that this isn't necessarily the case. If scientists in the seventies could get guys to the moon and back using slide rules to make their calculations, then I can figure out, even with my still-limited social understanding, how to be both honest and kind. Just because the rest of society thinks this isn't possible doesn't mean I have to believe them, and once I figure it out, others may be able to, too. (Clearly, Jesus didn't always avoid hurting peoples' feelings. But he WAS both honest and kind to all the people he was kind to, and he cast that net of kindness much further than many in his society were comfortable with, again as SMM pointed out.)

Done! I'm done! (Talking this much in public, unless I'm teaching a class, still sometimes makes me nervous. Someone pat my hand and reassure me that there is no hair on fire down here.)

Ren said...

Bravo SAC,

You've summed it up well. We can be both kind and honest. It really comes down to: do we treat others as Christ would or at least as if we are aware that He is present?

Ren said...

ooh, forgot to add something my mother always said, "the people who are hardest to love are the ones who need it the most."

Anonymous said...

SAC - Thank you so much. You have given me hope! I, too, shall work on social conventions so as to be more acceptable. For 30 years, I have been wondering what I do that annoys people.

I still wonder why these manners are not taught both in the home and at school. Our Lady was poor. I'm sure she had good manners.

Kyra Kramer said...

@ "lower-class" was not meant as a pejorative. It was merely to indicate that being raised on a lower socio-economic level can effect "habitus". Habitus ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habitus_%28sociology%29) is the learned expectations of how people "should" behave, and it is embedded in the middle class.

Anonymous said...

Wow. We really need to bring back the old re-runs of B&W TV. I remember the lessons in good taste that my dear departed mother taught me, just by watching the Dick Van Dyke show with me. There's Laura Petrie, the epitome of good manners, style and grace. She is real, personable, and sweet, but she NEVER snaps her gum, uses slang, or sits with legs askew! Contrast her with Sally - too loud, "manly" mannerisms, and even though she dressed femine, her actions kept the male suitors at arm's length. Her best friends were "the guys." Millie was the "inbetween" female character. She was not as sweet or pretty as Laura, but at least she wasn't as much of a SHOCK as Sally! Maybe we could all take a lesson from that. I know I am still learning!