The shutters and doors of the Radley home were closed on Sundays, another thing alien to Maycomb’s ways: closed doors meant illness and cold weather only. Of all days Sunday was the day for formal afternoon visiting: ladies wore corsets, men wore coats, children wore shoes. But to climb the Radley front steps and call, ‘he-y’ of a Sunday afternoon was something their neighbors never did” (To Kill a Mockingbird, p. 10).
Sometimes I feel a bit like the Radleys. In our friendly New England neighborhood, we are the peculiar ones, the family who isn’t doing fun runs and football practice and neighborhood brunches on Sundays. We are alien to our adopted hometown’s ways in our early Sunday morning departures, our participation in our ward’s (rather than the neighborhood’s) scout troop, our consistent absences at Sunday sports practices and games. We are friendly and open and participate in neighborhood gatherings as much as we can but I wonder sometimes if our peculiar ways are seen as Radley-like standoffishness.
. . .
Years ago, newlywed and newly out of grad school, we found ourselves in a wholly new area (and that’s a lot of new). My husband befriended a co-worker and we invited him and his wife over for dinner. On the appointed night, we opened the door to welcome our guests. Immediately we spotted the housewarming gift: a wine bottle cradled in their hands. Before they even crossed the threshold we abruptly blurted “oh, we don’t drink.” Our just-say-no training had prepared us to abstain but left graciousness and manners wanting.
. . .
At a work party, we greet acquaintances and friends. Many times as we shake hands the other person will lean in for a kiss on the cheek. No one ever taught me how to do this and each time I panic. One kiss on one cheek or two? Do I make contact or air kiss? Make a smack sound or not? Are there subtle signals I can read? Each time I end up nervously laughing (dignified!) and exude all the sophistication of Ellie Mae Clampett.
. . .
Admittedly, these rookie blunders and awkwardnesses are not the fault of my religion–and I have no doubt that there are marvelously gracious Mormons all around the world. Perhaps despite the best efforts of a gracious and well-mannered mother, I just didn’t absorb the teachings. But I do think that, as a culture, we tend to interact in certain ways that don’t necessarily prepare us to graciously interact with others–or even, at times, with each other. Case in point: I had a bishop years ago who sent out occasional reminders about the good manners of reciprocating invitations, of saying thank you, of the unwritten contract to volunteer to help others move if the ward helped you with your move. I can only assume this was triggered by hurt feelings and frustrations that bubbled up to the level of the bishop’s attention.
So, my question is this: if I were assembling a syllabus for a Mormon Finishing School–a field guide to graciousness–what would you suggest it include? What lessons have you learned or witnessed in your particular neighborhood/region/country?
Oh, and if you can give me any air kiss pointers, it would be greatly appreciated.