Good Graciousness

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.

46 thoughts on “Good Graciousness

  1. I always take the wine, serve it to my guests and use the rest in cooking. It seems the polite thing to do, but I am sure there is a better way to decline with grace.
    Air kisses are easy, you just have to get past the awkwardness of never doing it. usually there is some handshake sort of thing, then you lean toward their shoulder, keeping your face forward and kind of touch cheeks (or almost touch) making that small mwah of a kiss.

  2. What a great idea! You could call it: “Artfully Saying No: Avoiding the Mormon Social Blunder.”

    I would buy it!

    I feel caught in this predicament whenever I get out of my safe little circle. I just feel off guard and unsure of myself. We really do have our own society and our own ways. Makes me think that others must feel the same when they enter our circle. Hmmmm….

  3. Ah, memories! Would it help at all to know you are not the only ones? I was raised to not do any commerce on Sunday, no eating out, picking up donuts, no cooking – Sunday Cooking was done on Saturday and only 2 meals on both days. Sunday meals are cold, because you don’t work. No laundry – felt guilty forever when got sick and had to a load on Sunday, when i 1st moved out on my own!

    My DH was not raised anything in particular. So lots of changes. And many in my family church do not follow this anymore, but it seems to be engrained in me!

    Today – air kisses, never got it, appreciate the #1 comment greatly!
    Invitations are tricky with us. We don’t drink alcohol or pop, smoke, do tv or sports (altho have a DVD, but not up on current discusssions, which is the pt here). We were asked to dinner, by a new couple, hopeful to be friends with, and asked to bring the wine – we said we would bring sparkling juice, that we don’t drink or buy wine – invitation disappeared. When we go out, my husband assures others they can have a drink if they wish but we don’t, but…. if they get tipsy, we make fast exits.( We do make sure they can get home safe.)

    I’m not sure – I’m learning about graciousness – how to do things and say things in a more gracious way – but i have also learned – hurtfully so – that many people find the differences, not differences, but rudesness, no matter how we handle it, including family. I have no control over that. And, as my husband has remarked, it keeps making our circle smaller and smaller.

    Interested in reading the posts to come~!

  4. RSVP means PLEASE RESPOND! Is it just me, or do Mormons not know the meaning of this? And then, if you say you are coming, come! I’ve noticed flakey or none existent RSVPing in social as well as church situations. Recently we had 20 mothers request childcare for a RS meeting. We set up the nursery, asked several men in the ward to staff it, and then only 1 child showed up. What a waste of the volunteer’s time. It’s just basic consideration and good manners to let a host know whether or not you are coming, and then do what you say you are going to do!

  5. The air kiss fills me with ridiculous fear and dread as well. Thanks for the pointers, britt.

    I’ve always wondered about handshaking, too–especially among our Mormon community. I always figure that if we meet somebody new and they shake my husband’s hand, they also want to shake my hand . . . but there have been times I’ve extended my hand to a Mormon man after he’s shaken my husband’s and he looks at me like I’m some alien being. (Ahhh! Girl skin!!) Anybody else have this Mormon woman/Mormon man handshaking awkwardness? Seriously, though, I don’t want to just stand there by my husband’s side like an appendage. I have my own appendages and if I reach one of them in your direction, then shake it! (Unless it’s my leg. That would be weird.)

    Sunday etiquette outside of the Mormon west can be tough, too. When we lived in MN, we ended up letting our kids play with the other kids in the cul-de-sac on Sunday afternoons so we weren’t completely shutting ourselves off from our neighbors, but didn’t do parties or sports practices. I remember one non-Mormon friend trying to figure out the whole Sunday rule thing: “Can you go on a walk on Sunday?” “Yes!” “Can you go on a boat on Sunday?” “No!” “Can you drive your car on Sunday?” “Yes!” “Can your kids go to a birthday party on Sunday?” “No!” “Can you go to a friend’s house for dinner on Sunday?” “Yes!” She found it very confusing.

  6. My husband got a new boss about three years ago. The first Christmas he was very excited to gift us a nice bottle of wine. My husband accepted it graciously, only to have his assistant blurt out, “B_____ doesn’t drink!”
    The next year, his boss gave us a nice sampling of coffees. My husband’s assistant again piped up, with a failed attempt at controlling his laughter, “He doesn’t drink that either!”
    This year, he got a nice gift certificate to COLD STONE.
    {Foiled, even when trying to be gracious!}
    We are also the peculiar ones in the neighborhood. I know my neighbors think we’re nuts when I shuffle my kids out the door at an early hour every Sunday morning. And the neighborhood kids figure it out after a while that we really mean it when we tell them our kids won’t be out to play on Sundays.
    What I continue to struggle with is all the casual, neighborhood social interaction that revolves around drinking. I’m fine going to other’s b-b-que’s and girls’ nights, but I don’t know how to successfully host my own without alcohol being the main attraction. I’m too self-conscious, afraid no one would show up, so I just don’t host anything. It has really been a hard adjustment, this move into an area with very little LDS. Places I’ve lived before there were always at least one or two other Mormons in the mix, and that helped that awkward non-alcoholic socializing to not be an issue. Strength in numbers, I guess. My parent’s didn’t host many parties, and we lived in the Mormon Mecca of Mesa, AZ– so I’m really at a loss in this department.
    And Karen,
    oh my gosh, don’t get me started on the RSVPs! I’m frustrated right there with you.

  7. My problem is remembering to offer non-Mormons a beverage when they visit. Mormons don’t expect this, but other people find it a bit ungracious if they’re not offered something–not necessarily coffee.

  8. In my neck of the woods you touch cheeks on one side and make the kiss noise. Men and women alike. It takes a minute to get used to, but then it becomes natural.

    We have military parties all the time, and the people just know we aren’t drinking at ours. It hasn’t been a problem, and the people that want to drink just leave early. Which is totally fine with me because I want to go to bed, anyway. We have had no problem at occasions where there are toasts–people always have a non-alcoholic option, it seems. I find that making a big deal out of it causes more uncomfortable pauses than just asking “is this alcoholic?”

    And with hostess gifts, I find that the hostess gets a ton of wine and is super happy to receive a food-related gift–ANYTHING different. When we have been asked to bring the wine we usually say “We have never bought wine before–we don’t know anything about it and don’t want to screw it up. Is there anything else we can bring?” Works every time. People don’t want novices messing with their wine!

  9. I love what your bishop did. When we first moved out to Idaho, we made our usual round of dinner invitations to get to know people in the ward. We had roughly around 20 dinner parties the first year, and in the 2 years since? Only ONE has reciprocated! In New Hampshire EVERYone that we had over would have us over in turn at some point, and even if it took a while to return the invitation, they made sure we knew that they appreciated the evening and friendships usually came out of it. Here? People usually seem like they’re having a good time and act like we hit it off, and then hardly acknowledge the evening afterward. We finally gave up, but it still stings a bit. How can culture be so different from one place to another? And at least half of the members from our New England ward were from Utah! I just don’t get it.

    And the failure to respond to emails that really require a response?! I don’t get that either….sometimes it feels like people are walking away in the middle of a conversation. But I rarely get that from relationships that are formed through school or work or anything else. Mostly just church. Drives me crazy!

  10. What a great post! Thanks, Annie. And, Angela, thanks for helping me start out my day with a huge belly laugh:

    “I don’t want to just stand there by my husband’s side like an appendage. I have my own appendages and if I reach one of them in your direction, then shake it! (Unless it’s my leg. That would be weird.)”

    Yes, I’ve noticed the same strange hesitancy in some men (LDS and non) to shake the hand of a woman.

    I love the ideas that are being shared. Keep ‘em coming!

    President Hinckley was always encouraging us to be better, more gracious neighbors–in the larger sense of the word.

    “Let us be good neighbors. Let us acknowledge the diversity of our society, recognizing the good in all people. We need not make any surrender of our theology. But we can set aside any element of suspicion, of provincialism, of parochialism.”

  11. I think it’s usually a bigger deal to us than it is to other people. People don’t drink for lots of reasons–recovering alcoholics, folks who find it doesn’t agree with them (see http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/2007/11/why-i-stopped-d.html). Same with coffee–plenty of people decaffeinate for different reasons. It’s only if you feel the need to make a religious statement that it gets potentially awkward. I think that’s part of the reason for the WofW, actually, to give us opportunities to discuss religion, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it every time. Smiling and regifting are acceptable alternatives when it doesn’t seem like time to make a statement.

    Our Sunday rules are that if we’d do it with church friends, we can do it with other friends, too–a birthday party (at someone’s house) or a dinner party is not so different from a linger longer at church, but a birthday party at a swimming pool is. We also try to have a specific activity planned, so that we can say that “we’re doing x as a family” instead of just “no.” I’ve also found that people are very respectful and not offended when I say “we try very hard to reserve Sundays for family time, and really limit outside commitments.” That response has lead to many positive conversations about family life and how to prioritize those relationships (which is important to many people, not just Mormons).

  12. Oh, Britt, thank you for the tutorial. I’ll think of you every time I make the social rounds at those parties.

    Traci, thanks for adding your perspective. It’s a great reminder and, joined with JoLyn, reminds me that part of increasing our graciousness should include being able to welcome others to our social circles with a lot of compassion and remembering what it’s like to be new and unsure.

    Angela,
    so
    funny. I’ve had the same experience with handshakes + it’s bewildering.

    Thanks for all of these pointers and suggestions so far. Keep ‘em coming!

  13. I think I’ve lived in Utah too long (20 years now), because I’m really out of practice dealing with the social drinking/hostess gifts issues. Here, people don’t, as a rule, bring hostess gifts, but maybe we should! The RSVP thing does drive me crazy at times, too. I’ve noticed that the trend now is to say “RSVP. Regrets Only” which means that you’re only supposed to call if you aren’t planning on attending. But I wonder how many people actually take the time to call and say they won’t be coming? I’m guessing not many.
    Traci, I always enjoy your comments! Sad about the couple who withdrew their invitation simply because you were going to bring juice instead of wine. Perhaps *they* need a few tips on graciousness.
    Angela, that man/woman handshaking thing always confuses me, too.

  14. I’ve always loved the cheek kiss since I served my mission in Chile, and it was the social custom there to kiss one cheek. (We were forbidden as missionaries to kiss the men, but it was nice to get a smooch from the women). I tried to talk my LDS friends into being “kissing” friends, and they all looked at me strangely. My husband’s work friends all do the hug with smooch on the cheek as La Yen describes (men and women), and it makes me happy. I wish we did the smooch more as members of the church — it seems so much more warm and welcoming than just a handshake.

  15. RSVP problems are not unique to Mormons.

    Graciousness takes practice. At it’s base is the desire to help the other person feel comfortable and appreciated. Teaching yourself to genuinely smile and have solid eye contact with who you are speaking to helps a lot.

    Angela, where do you live that the men are so stand-offish? I have experienced that in some areas, but I’m more aggressive than most women, so they would look really stupid to ignore my handshake offer. (And sometimes they do.) Rude.

    I think the underlaying etiquette problem within the Western-US-Mormon culture is the lack of respect for culture outside of the “church culture”. Along with the attitude of “the only and only true church” often comes “the one and only true culture” and a disdain or pity for whoever thinks otherwise. So many people look down on whatever isn’t “the church” and figure whatever they’re not familiar with is *wrong*. It often leads to a self-righteous attitude — even if it’s completely innocent.

    Solution? Open your eyes to the beauty of the children of God all around you. Drinking alcohol does not equal “SINNER!” and hosting a birthday party on Sunday isn’t blasphemous. Own your beliefs, be comfortable in them, and then find out how you can be good neighbors without feeling (or being) preachy.

  16. Yes, yes, yes! I need this guide. But mine would have to be the Islam edition, with special appendices for each Muslim country. I’ve learned a lot from living in the Middle East and Central Asia in the last 15 years, but I still make too many mistakes.

    Of course, I make a lot of mistakes in the US, so maybe I can’t blame it all on my ignorance. At least when I’m in another country I can blame some of my mistakes on my less-then-stellar ability in Arabic and Russian.

  17. Kristine, yes. I’ve come to the same conclusion–that it’s a bigger deal to us than to them–and I wonder how to make it less of an issue for us?

    As ErinAnn said, graciousness takes practice. That’s for those of us who know what to do but feel shy doing it. But I think there’s a level of ignorance (and, yes, it would be there in any group of people) about courtesy and graciousness.

    I should add that I do think graciousness includes allowing others their mistakes in this area, too. (I remember my mom always telling the story–not sure if it’s apocryphal or not–about the Queen joining a guest in a faux pas in order to make the guest feel comfortable…higher order of good manners and graciousness, no doubt.)

    Amira, fascinating. You must encounter some interesting situations!

  18. I am glad I grew up with both non-mormon and mormon family, it makes me comfortable in both arenas. I am down with the air kiss and actually social kissing as well. I hate how standoffish and un touchy (American)mormons are as a whole.

    I try so hard to find ways to drop my non coffee/alcohol/iced tea drinking in so it saves people much awkwardness.

  19. ErinAnn: I really like what you said about alcohol not being inherently sinful. I think many Mormons would be more socially comfortable (and more theologically correct) if they viewed our abstaining from alcohol as a temporary commandment for our specific time than as an inherent matter of righteousness or sin.

  20. My husband spent some time in Tennessee over the summer and stayed with some of his friends from high school. They were kind and gracious and even invited us to their Bible Study Group. Which we would have gone to if we’d had a babysitter for our little guy. They weren’t terribly acquainted with our ways, but I found that if we didn’t make a big deal out of things then there would be no awkwardness. And then we went swimming at her parent’s house where we were offered sweet tea multiple times. :) Her mom seemed confused that anybody would not want it for whatever reason. We figured the most polite refusal would be a ‘No, but thank you” and keep having fun.

    So annoying when men are awkward about shaking my hand. After being shafted once, I’ve made it a point to be aggressive about making sure I’m included, or even shaking hands before my husband (not in a weird way, I just offer my handshake without hesitation – my husband is a hesitator for some reason).

  21. I liked ErinAnn’s last paragraph and what Kristine had to say. The manner in which we communicate makes all the difference. Also knowing that we aren’t the only religion that abstains from alcohol can make us less defensive. My neighbor doesn’t drink, she’s fundamentalist Christian – you’d think we’d be trying to convert each other! Instead we support each other in a world where daily religious devotion is becoming rare. We share ideas for youth activities, soccer leagues that don’t play on Sunday, and etc. She has taught me a lot about NOT assuming it’s an ‘Us Against Them’ world.

    My husband recently attended a retirement party where he held a full glass of wine the entire time. When it was all over he quietly dumped it down the sink. He was given a bottle of wine as a thank you gift at work. These are both situations in which people were being gracious to him – it’s only appropriate to extend gratitude – no preaching necessary, just a thank you. If more is asked (How did you like the wine? Why aren’t you drinking?)then you can elaborate.

    Your circle of friends only shrinks when you stop reaching out. Just because a few closed-minded people choose to step away doesn’t mean the whole non-Mormon world is against you.

    As to the RSVPs? A gentle prod can do wonders – “Did you see the RSVP at the bottom of the invitation?”

    I love the cheek kiss, my Latin brothers and sisters in the branch taught me. Now my family and friends freak out when I lean in, but I don’t take offense. It is great to show the world more love – hugs, kisses, handshakes, whatever. Reach out and love people, even if they feel awkward. Don’t take offense, love them!

  22. These comments are great. The whole hostess gift thing is new to me. I always forget and remember when we show up at a party, and I see all the bottles of wine. I usually stop and bring flowers when we do remember.

    Recently, at a baby shower, I won a game. I was excited, I opened my present and it was a nice gift set of tea and coffee. I tried not to let my face show it, but I totally did. I didn’t say anything but the girls asked later.

    I generally go with the idea that if these people are really my friends, they won’t get offended if I blunder. We all blunder, not just Mormons.

  23. Tay, I’m from Tennessee–sweet tea is a tough one! Making good sweet tea is an art form and a point of pride for Southern women; turning it down is tricky. “Not right now, thanks” was my standard defense, but people do start to wonder! Fortunately, fresh lemonade will do as a substitute when you need to offer something in your home.

  24. The members here do the double-cheek kiss, touching cheeks, make kissing noise. Gotta love it. Don’t be surprised if I kiss your face next time I see you, or the first time I see you. The Americans I know here also have adopted it; but you’re right that it invades our need for a larger amount of personal space.

    I think flowers are a great hostess gift. Chocolate works too.

  25. I have all of our birthday parties on Sunday. I wouldn’t do one with a bunch of little kids and games, but for family it seems the best time to get together. And I’m in Utah.

  26. So many issues to think about.

    We are different to most people that we know, and that is just the way it is. Our children and friends understand that we don’t attend parties on a Sunday for instance, and accept it. Some of their friends even make sure activities are happening on a Saturday so that they can attend. Living in England means that there are few who are familiar with our beliefs, but we usually explain and that is that. All of my friends have other drinks to offer instead of tea and coffee, if not water is fine. The only issue there is that British workmen always expect a cup of tea while they work and think we are odd for offering an alternative.

    We often try to have others over for dinner on a regular basis, but we rarely receive invitations in return. They just don’t seem to happen, maybe it it is the norm now. Then again, maybe some people don’t ever do dinner invites as they find them stressful. I don’t ask friends in the hope they will ask me back, I do it to have fun with them. I also do not expect a hostess gift but am thrilled if given one. Saying that I usually do take flowers or chocolates over if I go anywhere.

    Handshakes from men are frequent here for girls too, I have not noticed men ignoring me in that department. Kissing doesn’t happen too much here, British reserve and all that. Quite happy to kiss but then I did serve a mission in France.

    Are we different to non Mormons? Yes, but that is normal for us. Does it bother me? Not even a tiny bit.

  27. I am grateful for all of these thoughtful replies so far. Over the 15-20 years since these rookie errors & gaps in graciousness I described above, I hope I’ve evolved + better learned how to communicate and respond graciously (well, except maybe for the social kissing and now I’m armed with a tutorial).

    More often than not, I react awkwardly because I’m taken by surprise. (That’s where your comments about what you specifically say are so helpful to those of us who stumble on the spot.) I eventually reduced the deer in the headlights feeling and became more easy going, which in turn relaxed those around me.

    One of the big themes I see emerging from the comments is It Depends. Sometimes you explain with a religious reason, sometimes you just say thank you, no. Sometimes you quietly hold the wineglass, other times you offer to serve the wine to your guests. Sunday etiquette is interpreted differently by every family.

    But I love the universals that are emerging here, too: express gratitude, own your own beliefs + respect others’. Reach out. Connect. Kiss. Be generous.

  28. I love the post and am glad it makes me think of where I need to improve.

    I live in WA and when we moved into our current home one of the neighbors was telling me a little about the neighborhood. She mentioned that the family next door to us “just kept to themselves.” I hadn’t met them but knew from from a friend that they were LDS too. I remember thinking that she’d probably say that about us someday.

    I always feel bad about the Sunday birthday parties especially when it’s for a child I want my kid to be friends with. When we RSVP that they can’t go I try to invite the child to come over on another day to make up for it. Speaking of RSVP’s, I thankfully have the opposite problem. I know all the church kids moms will RSVP, it’s the school kids moms I don’t hear from.

  29. As a side question, do any of you know why we don’t join the local scout troops rather than make our own? It really baffles me, but there must be an explanation. I’ll take my answer off the air. ;)

  30. As far as saying no thanks to coffee, tea, alcohol, etc. I found it best to state openly when at a friend’s house that I follow a religious health code. Because, I realized that people were thinking I was rude when I kept saying no thanks to their offers of coffee, tea, or a drink. Also, when inviting friends over for a dinner, we get out that no drinking thing in the open. When we lived in Sweden, our friends were always very gracious and provided non-alcoholic cider so that we could be included in the toasting–which was so important to the party.

    I love the air kiss. I usually half-hug with an air kiss on one cheek. Some cultures kiss on both cheeks. I usually let them take the lead.

    When I moved away from Wyoming I blundered by not bringing a hostess gift to a dinner invitation. I’ve since rectified that by bringing chocolate, flowers, or a nice tin of herbal tea. Also, it is always nice to offer a beverage when you have visitors.

    I don’t make an issue of not accepting Sunday invitations to birthday parties. We just politely decline.

  31. When I started law school (I went to BYU), the Dean said we would be having small group mixers in professors’ homes as a way to help us get some practice at the cocktail party scene, since many Mormons are unused to the custom and it’s an important part of social work life. It seemed like a good idea (many years later, I still feel awkward at cocktail parties). I was assigned to the Dean’s house and almost laughed as his wife ushered us down to the basement and sat us all down in a circle on meetinghouse folding chairs and handed us pie–totally defeating her own husband’s stated purpose (and he didn’t bat an eye).

    I’ve never had a problem declining wine or coffee or Sunday events in strictly social settings. But things get trickier when jobs are tied to how we react. My dad had many situations in his career as a political appointee where he had to find a way to politely decline alcohol, especially tricky when it’s from ranking political officials in other countries. He always found, despite warnings to the contrary, that the officials were very gracious. The best story I’ve heard though is from a friend here who works for a casino developer and had been sent to Macao to make a big deal happen (and not to come back until it did!). He was set to meet with the mayor and was told that the mayor got famously offended when people turned down drinking his chosen beverage for toasts. So, my friend fretted and worried and in the end, when the waiter tried to fill his glass before the toast, the mayor himself yelled–”He can’t have that, he’s a MORON!” My friend has never been so relieved to be called a moron in his life. But the key was what Leslie alluded to: letting others know about you and your habits ahead of time to save everyone gaffes.

  32. Rather than a hostess gift, I offer to bring a salad or dessert or something to contribute to the table. Usually, people say ‘yes.’ I try to reciprocate dinner invitations (I like having people over for dinner), but it isn’t feasible for some families simply because of the size of our house compared to the size of their family. I should do a BBQ in the backyard to overcome that problem, but so far I haven’t.

    My kids are too young for birthday parties yet, but I’d let them play with friends or go to birthday parties on Sunday. I won’t plan their birthday parties for Sunday, but I wouldn’t keep them home from a friend’s party.

  33. If you invited someone to your party and they were allergic to chocolate…you wouldn’t think a thing of it. If they said, “Thank you so much, but I can’t eat chocolate” or “Everything is beautiful, thank you so much…oh, thanks but I’ve chosen not to eat chocolate as it isn’t good to me, but I am sure excited to have one of those.” or even “You are so kind, thank you…but I will pass on the chocolate for religious reasons.” You wouldn’t bat an eye.

    We have a 2 year old grandson with diabetes that is already having to say, No thank you. Most people really are kind… if you are!

    Oftimes, we under-estimate our hosts so we worry about what they will think of us. Let them think whatever they want, because most people love gracious people and and if we are gracious, they won’t think past that. We live in a day in age where people think for themselves. All over the world, people are kind and will love having you over even if you don’t drink with them. There is a charm in understanding people and their ‘ways’ and that includes you and yours!

    What other people think of us is non of our business. How others feel (because of us) is! Our decisions should always be made with God as one of the guests.

    “I’ve decided not to play sports on Sunday.” That fact does not say: “I don’t like you.” It just says: I’d love to shoot hoops with you on Wednesday! Most folks are smart enough not to take trivia personal.

    I have found people all over the world to be very understanding and kind… if I am. Oh! and I love the kisses on the cheek thing. It takes a minute to get your air back at first… but what a good life we have the more brothers and sisters we meet along life’s road!

  34. Here in Hawaii social kissing is for women only, or at least the women don’t kiss the men usually, although that can happen–especially if the woman is older and the man is younger. Men don’t kiss men, however. (Men do the manly handshake hug thing.)

    If a woman extends her arm you come in for a half-hug and a kiss on the cheek. I learned quickly this is not an air kiss! It can be someone you are meeting for the first time, or someone you already know, mostly it is just a show of solidarity. For example, today the sister missionaries came to my house, and I kissed them when they introduced themselves, but if I were to go to an enrichment activity or another social gathering of women then I would have to kiss everyone who was already there when I arrived whether I already knew them or not.

    This is one of those things I wished someone had explained to me, so I’ll put it out there in case it will help anyone out.

    As far as the WOW goes, we find that we already stick out for having all these young children. People already figure something is up, but they appreciate it when we explain that our religion has a health code. They are usually polite if we are.

    At the end of the day, however, if the neighbors say, “Oh that family, they are really nice but they mostly stick to themselves,” I guess I can live with that. People said that about us when we lived in Utah too.

  35. My husband and I got invited to a big Christmas party for the president of his company when we first moved to Austin. He asked what he could bring since he’s used to going to Mormon parties where pot luck is almost always the rule. The host just looked at him strangely and said he didn’t need to bring anything–it was being catered. My husband felt like he just fell off the turnip truck.

    I had to inform him that now that we’re in the real world (not Mormondom) we have to bring a hostess gift. He totally didn’t believe me. Fortunately I bought a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. When we got to the party, though, he saw everybody arriving with bottles of wine and he finally understood. I try to have a few cute homemade aprons on hand to bring as hostess gifts, but flowers work. Although they are kind of a pain because the hostess has to run off and find a vase for them. But I’m not about to bring alcohol.

    Not drinking has never been a problem for us, although drinking here is really popular. I had a neighborhood get together over the summer and asked people to bring a snack to share. Almost everyone brought beer as their snack! When the party ended we had tons left over so we just gave it all to the last person who left the party.

    We don’t let our kids play with anyone on Sundays. It seems to always disintegrate into very non-Sabbathy activities no matter what (getting out the skateboards, video games and other things we try to avoid) We just tell all our kids’ friends that Sunday is a family day for us. Nobody really cares.

    My sons best friend is Muslim and I always fall all over myself to make sure we don’t serve anything with pork when he comes over. I imagine that most people would feel just as respectful of Mormonism if they knew we were abstaining from alcohol, coffee, etc. for religious reasons.

    My son’s preschool class has a get together with the moms once a month at a coffee shop. I go because I want to get to know the other moms, but I always have hot cocoa. Occasionally someone will ask me what kind of coffee I’m having. When I tell them it’s hot cocoa I just say that I hate coffee–which is the absolute truth! Several of the moms are Evangelicals so I don’t want to bring up the Mormon thing just yet. But I will eventually!

  36. Just a wonder about the tendency to avoid/neglect shaking women’s hands. I’ve read a few books of late that were written from a middle eastern view point. Not all have been the repressive religious/political regime type culture. Even in some of the more modern countries/cultures it would be considered very improper for a man to shake a woman’s hand. Even reading one about a tribe in Namibia Africa there seem to be greeting traditions that differ for women than men.

    Perhaps it is not an ignoring/devaluing thing but a respecting/deference thing. Though in American business culture it think it would be hard not to try and make all things be equal. In social settings some of those cultural tendencies could remain.

    I know that when at church by myself which is most of the time, I feel weird interacting with the brethren. Not so weird that I don’t do it but I am very formal. For example we have known one of our hometeachers for years. We are very good friends with their family, his wife and I have done co-op preschool together, gone over to their house for family home evening, my husband and I have even gone on double dates with them. Yet I still feel a little weird calling the husband by his first name, it is always Bro. A_______ and Amber. To the point where he said to me one month when setting up an appointment, “Really Dovie, it’s ok to call me John, it is not like our families haven’t known each other for years.” I felt kind of foolish at that point because it was just a habit. It was not something that I thought about. Now I have to think and make a deliberate choice call him John.

    When I was in high school I read Anna Karenina. It wasn’t until I was like a hundred pages in that I “got” the familiar/non familiar naming customs going on. Once I did I had to start over and all of the sudden it made way more sense. Maybe it influenced me way to much.

    Thanks ladies for all of the cultural etiquette education.

  37. I don’t like it when a man offers his hand for me to shake. But I’m old, and old-fashioned. My parents taught us that wasn’t proper, and so I don’t like it. But not just because it was “the rule” when I was raised. Truth is, I just don’t like to touch a man’s hand unless I want to touch it. Period. (And I fully admit that I am probably out of date and times are a-changin’.)

    I also think Mormons are slightly worse about RSVP-ing than others. When my daughter was married, almost all of the non-Mormons RSVPd but few of the Mormons did. I think we’re so used to attending group church functions that we just don’t think about the importance of the RSVP. Also, once a person does RSVP, he or she needs to either be there or else call and cancel. We ended up paying a lot more for our wedding than we needed to because of people who accepted the invitation but didn’t show up. It was kind of a bummer.

    I also prefer being called by my first name at church when it comes to people I know well. Saying Sister so-and-so is, to me, the “church” equivalent of being called Mrs. so-and-so. Can you imagine a friend calling you Mrs. Smith, or whatever? Pretty unheard of except as a joke.

    Of course, sometimes people will call me Sister so-and-so and mean it as a joke. Which is fine. But when they’re serious, it annoys me.

    Boy…I sound like a prickly pear here, don’t I?

    ;)

  38. Oh man–here are some things I’d throw on the list:

    RSVP–YES! Freaking yes. Let people know you’re coming. {Unfortunately this has become so ingrained that I struggle doing this as well. Ridiculous. But I’m getting better.}

    Tipping. At say, a restaurant. Oh. My. Goodness. Having worked my way through BYU as a server I can certainly attest to the cheapness of our fellow saints. I can’t tell you how many times I would have a family seated in my section that would rave about the food and service only to leave a 10% or LESS tip. I’m sorry, but that’s not cool! When your figuring out your dinner budget, factor in the tip please! Servers make only 2.15/hour plus tips in Utah, so it really is all about the tips. If we go out with my in-laws, who usually insist on paying, I always straggle behind for a minute so I can throw down some more money on my FIL’s meager tip–he’s not poor either, so this really bugs!

    Another one along the cheap Mormon line–just because we’re both “members” doesn’t mean that I do any and all things for FREE. Don’t expect a discount on your dental care, interior design and whatever else you think you should get the Mormon discount for just because your dentist/interior designer is also your Bishop/primary president . I truly thinks this stems from the whole issue of moving. You pretty much expect that when you move into a new ward, everyone shows up to help you. Generally not a problem–but sometimes, when you have WAY too much stuff and you can afford it….you need to hire movers.

    I’m done. Sorry. That felt good.

  39. I loved this post and the thoughtful comments. It reminds me that I should be placing a high priority on manners at my house and that I should constantly be looking for ways to improve my own social skills. Thanks Annie!

    p.s. I found it ironic that you wrote this since, as your loyal blog reader, I find you unfailingly gracious.

  40. Thanks for the great input (and venting is great, too, Miggy).

    Oh, Angie–the law school and moron Macao stories are priceless. Thanks for the laugh.

    Michelle, I’ve been reading these comments with thoughts of my own children and the YW I work with, too. I’ve been thinking that I need to do a better job of giving them opportunities to try (+fail) at graciousness. In our youth programs I wonder if we can get a bit away from the divisive language (us vs. them, church vs. world) and prepare our youth to be gracious adults.

    I think sometimes we are so focused on getting them through adolescence (don’t do drugs! stay away from alcohol! etc., not worrying how it’s said but just that it’s avoided) that we lose out in helping them prepare to live graciously in the decades after that.

  41. In the marketing and advertising business, corporate gifts are requisite, so I’ve been given several bottles of wine during the course of my career. I usually accept graciously and thank the person for thinking of me, then later offer the bottle to coworkers. On occasion, I’ve been asked, by the giver, if I drink. I say, no but thank them again for thinking of me and tell them how thoughtful they are. I’m so used to cocktail parties with my glass of soda, that it’s not a big deal anymore. I don’t go out of my way to call attention to myself, but I don’t shy away from answering questions either when asked why I don’t drink. In fact, I’ve had 3 serious discussions about the Gospel in bars where my non-alcoholic drink caught someone’s attention.

    Since we’re speaking about manners, I’ve lived all over the U.S. and in a few foreign countries. I sadly have to say that the manners of men in Utah are really attrocious, and I think it has to do with the concentration of Mormon culture rather than the state. I’ve noticed that many men seem to think it’s not appropriate to treat a woman kindly if he is not married to her. This is most noticable if the woman is near his age. I’ve had more doors than I can count slam in my face because the man in front of me couldn’t be bothered to hold it open, when he knew I was right behind him. Furthermore, I’ve seen men walk faster to the door so they didn’t have to hold it open. I’ve even slipped and have laid on the ground while several men within a few feet of me stood and watched and made no attempt to help. And, what really gets my goat is that the same thing has happened to my mother who looks young. Mormon mothers, please train your young men in social niceties — it’s one of the hallmarks of a civilized society.

  42. as a new flight attendant one of the things i was initiated to was the air kiss. it always struck me as odd that i greet near strangers with a “kiss”, while such an act would almost happen with my close friends. i hug my friends and family whom i haven’t seen in a long time upon greeting. but the flight attendant thing was new to me. i’m down with it now though. wish it would fly in my personal life cause i think it’s a nice custom. let’s just say i’d be fine in europe. ♥

  43. Somebody asked why we don’t join in with local scout groups. My guess is that it must be part of the Americn church culture rather than a doctrine thing. I am fairly sure that only America has it’s own church scout groups. Certainly in England and France scouting is not part of the church at all. Admittedly we don’t have as many LDS people here, but some wards in large cities like London would definitely be large enough to sustain a group. The problem we have is with timetable clashes, if we do scouting and church then that is extra on time and nights out. My son loved Beavers (age 6 to 8) but has to miss out on Cubs as the one in our village which all of his friends attend runs the same time as Fiath in God.

  44. Forgive the intrusion of the masculine for half a mo. Loved the post, which Wendy passed along to me both because we’ve been talking a lot about social custom in our ex-pat community here in the Middle East AND because I’m reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to our kids right now. Fortuitous!

    Anyway: I generally advise people we invite in advance that we’re a teetotaling house, and no one’s ever complained. As for being invited, most know in advance we don’t know anything about wine and wouldn’t want to trust us with the selection anyway. But we also make it clear that we are comfortable with them partaking: our rule is our rule, not theirs. That helps. Though I must say that people who drink get nervous about it in front of people who don’t: shame? or fear of losing control when there’s little chance the audience will, too?

    As for the kissing and the handshakes, I served my mission in Italy, and we’ve spent a lot of time in Europe, and I think it’s great. The Euro style is typically left to right, no actual lips brushing, unless you know the person very well. Here in the ME, there are no transgender kisses, but same-gender greetings range from a lingering handshake to a three-pass double smack (kiss-kiss left, kiss-kiss right, kiss-kiss left) to the touching of noses. But it’s a when in Rome deal, certainly, and it’s harmless, and it doesn’t affect your worthiness, and it is surprising to people when you don’t. So we do.

    And I’d shake your hand (though I wouldn’t shake your leg, which you have no business offering in the first place!). I don’t understand the hang-up myself. Seems very Arabian Peninsula. Tell them it’s un-American not to shake. And that you don’t think they’re sexy.

    As you were, with apologies.

  45. here is what I’d include in a LDS finishing school:

    1) like a previous poster said, do respond to emails that require a response. Sometimes I’ve sent things to mulitiple folks (ie calling-realted) and very few respond

    2) baby showers: do thank the giver for a gift. I am on a budget, I struggle to get by and I could have spent that money in other ways. I’ve never been blessed to have children. Yet I chose to spend something for you and your little one. You are definitely busy, but a simple thank you is kind.

    3) other parties in the ward- perhaps this is the only place I can say this. Often I’ve been invited to baby showers or wedding receptions/bridal showers. It is funny that I’m rarely invited to other party type events/game nights/personal dinners, gatherings etc. Just a thought. I can think of several that have hosted parties to which I was not invited yet I did give to their baby shower. I do strive to be happy for others but sometimes it hurts.

    4) good etiquetter would also be not allowing the situations in the above paragraph bother you!

    5) show interest in the religion of others just like we hope they will show in ours

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