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Letters 12-14-2014

Come Together There is a time-honored war strategy known as “divide and conquer,” and never has it been more effective than now. The enemy is using it against us through television, internet and other social media. I opened a Facebook account a couple of years back to gain more entries in local contests. Since then I had fallen under its spell; I rushed into judgment on several social issues based on information found on those pages

Quiet The Phones! This weekend we attended two beautiful Christmas musical events and the enjoyment of both were significantly diminished by self-absorbed boors holding their stupid iPhones high overhead to capture extremely crucial and highly needed photos. We too own iPhones, but during a public concert we possess the decency and manners to leave them turned off and/or at home. Today’s performance, the annual Messiah Sing at Traverse City’s Central Methodist Church, was a new low: we watched as Mr. Self-Absorbed not only took several photos but then afterwards immediately posted them to his Facebook page. We were dumbfounded.

A Torturous Defense In defense of the C.I.A.’s use of torture in a mostly fruitless search for vital information, some suggest that the dire situation facing us after 9-11, justified the use of torture even at the expense of the potential loss of much of our nation’s moral authority.

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Most polite... A conversation with Mrs. T

Anne Stanton - March 30th, 2009
Most Polite
A Conversation with Mrs. T

By Anne Stanton 3/30/09

Our most polite award in this year’s Best of Northern Michigan poll goes to “T” Hanawalt. She actually wasn’t on the ballot, but, quite honestly, she has no competition. Mrs. T, as she goes by, has turned a nook in Building 50 into a picture of gentility—fresh flowers, fine china, and cloth napkins—all in her quest to teach us good manners. As the proprietor of Mrs. T’s Tutorials, her instruction ranges from putting a napkin on your lap to writing a proper thank you note.
Yet Mrs. T (short for a first name she doesn’t care for) isn’t stuffy or judgmental. Instead, she epitomizes the relaxed refinement one can only get from growing up in the South. When she’s not teaching manners, she’s teaching second grade at Pathfinder School, where all of her children wait patiently to be called upon before talking. (Well, most of the time.)
Northern Express asked Mrs. T’s advice on how to soften a bit of our rough edges here in the great white North.

NE: When I decided to interview you, I started thinking a lot about cell phone manners. I, along with many others, have had moments of rudeness with my cell phone. Just the other week, I found myself texting someone while sitting at lunch with friends. I want to do better. Advice?
Mrs. T: Turn off your cell phone anytime you’re sitting with someone, including lunch. Just turn it off. You can get a message later. And when you’re in a store purchasing something, turn your cell phone off. It’s very impolite to have your cell phone distract you from an interaction with another human being.

NE: How about when you’re on a walk with someone?
Mrs. T: Turn it off! If you’re on a walk and you’re engaged with sharing some time together, turn your cell phone off.

NE: How about driving?
Mrs. T: Same thing.

NE: Do you think we as a society are becoming less polite?
Mrs. T: Oh definitely. All you have to do is look around. If you go to a fast food chain and buy a kid’s meal right now, you have the opportunity to receive a burping machine. If you want to burp, you can simply press a button and this noise will be made for this child.
Equally, if you drive around the city and look at the bumper stickers, the words written and messages shared—NOT on a voluntary basis, you don’t have a choice, they’re sitting in front of you—are offensive.
The third way that manners have been diminished—if you look at the television shows that children are offered. The parents and other adults in these TV shows are treated without respect and are spoken to in a way that we in our homes would never accept. And this becomes a model for our children. These shows are supposed to be entertaining and funny, but they are actually frightening.

NE: Which shows are the biggest offenders?
Mrs. T: I don’t want to answer that.

NE: I think there’s a common perception that good manners are attached to class. High class, low class. Although, in truth, I’ve met semi-famous and very rich people with no manners at all.
Mrs. T: Manners are for everyone. It’s simply a matter of education, and they are available to everyone, any time, anywhere. Manners are for all of us. It ‘s really about creating a civil society. And we all want that at the base of our hearts. It makes our lives more rewarding. It gives us a better way to move through each and every day.

NE: You always look so put together, never sloppy. Tell me about the value of first impressions.
Mrs. T: Well, I work with young people to teach them about first impressions.
Unfortunately, first impressions have a lasting effect, and if they’re made poorly, it takes a lot longer to repair them compared to just starting off with the right foot forward. I work with young people to teach them how to make choices on the message they want to send, whether in a business or in a social situation. I teach them to talk to someone and look them in the eyes, and to position their bodies so they look attentive. Things they might not have learned.
Again, these are all things you can learn; no one is born knowing these things. No one is born knowing how to make a good first impression. No one is born knowing how to be polite; you have to be taught and you have to want to learn.

NE: Speaking of first impressions, do you think Northern Michigan is a bit too casual?
Mrs. T: No. I think Northern Michigan is comfortable. I think we look very comfortable, because we live in a snowy climate. The outdoors is valuable to all of us and being in it is valuable to our lives. We dress to the place in which we live. We don’t live in a fancy city; we live in a cozy community with Raclette cheese and snowshoes and hiking and trails and boats and water. I feel like we do just fine.

NE: I have lived in many other places, and have to say that Traverse City has the most consistently “nice” people. Although in the South, they are much more ready to hug you and call you “honey” and “sweetie.”
Mrs. T: It’s not as sincere. I’ve lived in Milan and Atlanta and Manhatttan and Chicago. Traverse City is one of the nicest places to live and work. It’s that Midwestern down-to-earth politeness that carries those of us who are transplants.

NE: How does your background play into your good manners?
Mrs. T: I grew up in the South, in Georgia, in a very old Southern family that has been on the same property for six generations. I come from a long line of polite Southern people. And hospitality and the ability to make someone comfortable has been part of my family’s demeanor from times I can’t even remember; there are family stories that transfer culture from one generation to another. An oral tradition that teaches civility and manners and politeness.

NE: So how do you respond when someone—say a sales clerk—is rude to you?
Mrs. T: I recently had this happen. I was waiting to be helped and had actually started being helped when someone walked up and interrupted and spent five minutes discussing their situation with the person who was supposedly helping me. I sat quietly and patiently until the person was done and walked away. I looked at the sales clerk and said, ‘You know what? I need to go now.’ And I left.
I don’t think you have to accept rudeness. And you don’t have to be in turn rude. You can just leave. They lost a customer. They’ll figure it out. It’s not my job to teach everyone, only those who like to learn. No one has to endure that behavior.

NE: You have two teen-age twin boys. Are they polite?
Mrs. T: Yes, they are very polite.

NE: Okay—I’m asking as a parent of a 17-year-old. Are they polite even when they’re upset with you?
Mrs. T: Well, they’re normal. The reason I say they’re well behaved and polite, is that people who have them over to their homes, people who entertain them, will tell me they’re beautifully mannered, and enjoy having them around.

NE: Now I’m going to ask you some manner questions. Silverware?
Mrs. T: Sometimes it can seem daunting, especially if you have a lot of pieces. Just know to work from the outside in. That will pretty much save you. If the salad is being served first, the salad fork will be placed on the outside. There’s also the question, where do you put the silverware if you are resting, but still dining? It’s a crossed position at 7 o’clock and 5 o’clock. The finished position, when you’re through with the meal, is to place them in a parallel fashion facing 5 p.m.

NE: How about the rule to never wear white shoes or white pants before Memorial Day or after Labor Day?
Mrs. T: At your discretion, you can do what you want these days.

NE: Always wear a slip?
Mrs. T: Goodness gracious, no.

NE: Don’t talk about your personal problems at work?
Mrs. T: Very true. Very, very true.
NE: Never talk about money problems?
Mrs. T: Probably a good idea if you want to stay friends with people.

NE: Even money saving ideas?
Mrs. T: I avoid conversations related to finances and to employment in social situations.
They are very personal. If I don’t really know someone, I don’t discuss them. If they’re my friends, everything is okay. So much depends on the setting and what you choose to discuss. If you’re at a political rally, then by all means you can talk about politics. But if you’re at the home of an acquaintance for the first time at dinner, you probably don’t want to talk about those things.
I teach people that they should have three ideas or questions tucked into their back pocket—a recent book they’ve read about, a recent adventure they’ve had, or a hobby they might share. Because there are lots and lots of things to talk about rather than focus on something that causes a person some embarrassment.

NE: How about what to wear and not to wear at work?
Mrs. T: Depends on where you work.

NE: What to wear and not to wear, ever?
Mrs. T: Again, we make choices. If you’re well educated in terms of what is appropriate, then if you choose to wear something that’s inappropriate, that’s your personal statement. There are no laws. It’s a lawless endeavor.
We live in a country where we continue to value freedom of speech and freedom of action. So there has to be a certain level of tolerance. At the same time, hopefully the better educated you become the more sensitive you are to those around you. I find so often in a larger city where everything is so impersonal, there is a complete disregard to the impact you have through your actions. But in our little town, your behavior is more pronounced. It’s what you want to say about yourself to your friends and employer. The thing is to be aware that you’re doing that. You’re purposeful; you’re not doing it by mistake. Look at your body—what do you feel comfortable in, what do you look good in?

NE: Is it best not to look people in the eye in a big city?
Mrs. T: Oh gosh, you can look people in the eye in the city. Just don’t stare. It’s impolite to stare. And sometimes in the big city, you’ll see things you might want to stare at. When I lived in Manhattan, I would speak to people and they would speak to me. I don’t think we have to be frightened.
I think Southern women are accused of being flirtatious. In the South, we love to laugh, we love to have a good time, and we love to not take ourselves quite so seriously.

NE: If I may be so rude to ask, how much does a manners class cost?
Mrs. T: Forty-five dollars an hour.

NE: A bargain.
Mrs. T: I think so too. Table manners cost a little more. They require more time, and I do them in groups of five. … I’ve taught all kinds of people—Girl Scout troops, schoolchildren. I’ve taught adults who want to polish their manners for a business dinner. There have been grandparents who have put their grandchildren in classes, as many as eight at a time. They want their grandchildren to have a little bit more than the average person is getting this day and age.

To make an appointment with Mrs. T., call 231.360.9591. And say please … please.


 
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