Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Miss Manners

Growing up I was forced to attend a class exclusively on manners. We did everything you would expect in a manners class including, I kid you not, walking with books on our head, while wearing frilly socks, no less. As a tomboy, I was horrified at this waste of Saturday mornings!

That said, I have finally reached the point where I can say, "Thank you, Mom, for making me do that." I know what silverware to use when and how to hold polite conversations. Maybe I would have learned this all by osmosis at some point, but, it seems to me, things are headed in the opposite direction.

One of my biggest pet peeves of the moment is that people ask my kids to call them by their first names, not Mr. or Mrs. Smith, but Miss Kathy. Am I correct in assuming that this is inappropriate? I am not talking about close friends/godparents who go by Aunt/Uncle, but casual acquaintances that we meet for playdates. I generally try to jump the gun and introduce other moms to my kids by their proper names, such as, "This is Mrs. Smith." But they often reply, "Call me Miss Cathy." I just keep reminding my kids what other adults' proper names are.

It is sometimes awkward that of the moms we meet with kids the same age are 15 years older than me. Sometimes I feel as if I should be addressing them by their proper names, let alone my children!

And it felt strange, at first, to have the 14 year old daughter of a friend calling me "Mrs. Incredible" given that I am closer in age to her than to her mother, but I now think that this is much more appropriate. I think addressing adults by their proper name cultivates respect and authority. Please tell me I'm being totally rational and polite!


Sophi said...

I feel the same way. I was not taught to properly address adults, and I sure wish I had been. I do teach my children to use Mr. Mrs. It drives me bonkers when I introduce someone to them and the person usurps that and tells my kids to call them whatever! Stick to it, it's the right thing to do.

Mary Alice said...

You are totally right, but I would venture to say that the "Miss Kathy" thing is southern/texan, people in the north would just have the kids call them by their first names alone, like peers! We gave a college kid coming to our house for swimming instruction and every time I refer to myself to him I do it as "Mrs Txx", but he still calls me Alice.

I wish there were classes like this that i could send my kids to, we did go to "dancing school" which was as much about behavior as it was about dancing, the girls had to wear little white gloves!

My southern sister in law is so good at this stuff and I am sure that her kids are going to make mine look like total barbarians, but I am going to try to learn what I can from her, she does it all so graciously!

Kat said...

Having just moved to Texas, it does seem like the adults in the neighborhood are introducing themselves to my kids as "Miss" and "Mr". This is also what we did in Chicago, although I must say that most of the time we actually just went with first names without any "Miss" or "Mr".

When I went to high school in Atlanta (in the 90's), we certainly called people by their last names, so maybe things are just changing??

I agree that it is very important to teach our children respect for adults, and I think that using last names could help with this, but there are plenty of other ways to teach respect: teaching your children to say "hello", to respond when spoken to, to look adults in the eye, to shake their hand, etc.

By the way, MA and JM, my C is very excited to be "learning new skills" such as pouring his own milk, clearing the plates from the table, helping his little sister with certain things, so thank you for the suggestion! I think that we can also "practice" being polite to adults...Mom could pretend to be a teacher or neighbor, and C has to practice introducing himself. I think this could be good!

Elizabeth M said...

We do the same, in expecting our children to use Mr./Mrs. with last names for adults--including neighbors and friends of the family. Around here (South Jersey), the "Miss First Name" seems to happen with some of the preschools or daycare situations. Our kids' church-based preschool did use Mrs. [last name] for their teachers though.

We are working with our kids on manners -- we've always pushed "please" and "thank you" from a very early age and usually get compliments that we have very polite kids. That's nice, but it's a shame that simple, consistent use of please and thank you are rare enough for comment!

My brother and sister and their families all live in the South, so they do have us beat with the "Ma'am" and "Sir"!

Our son is 10 and we've recently realized that he needs more work on looking adults in the eye, shaking hands, introducing himself, "nice to meet you" - etc. So dh is working with him on that as a "manly" manner!

Thinking about it now -- I think I do find that "Miss First name" is also more common among some mothers of only girls. Maybe that's a coincidence? But our Cub Scout Pack uses all Mr./Mrs. for our leaders. My daughter's Brownie leader is "Miss Amy." Several of those moms only have little girls...

Right Said Red said...

I think manners and respect towards our elders is seriously lacking in our country! Don't you think people have a hang up about being Mrs. so and so because it makes them feel old? I think it's this fear of being old (our society has issues here as well) coupled with a desire to be "cool and likable" to the kids that leaves most adults wanting to be addressed by their first name only (around here you don't even get Miss Katie, but just Katie!)

Anyway, I also believe that manners is about making people feel comfortable, so if everyone goes by their first name, it would be a bit awkward for me to ask my children to call them something else (when they have asked to be called by just their first name.) I prefer Mrs., but if the recipient requests otherwise, or just seems to defer to another address, I follow their lead and have my children address them as he or she wishes. I'm not sure if there is a better way to handle this?

k said...

Yikes, this is something I have just been struggling with. All of my friends kids and my friends seem to be going the just call them by their first name route. Which at first I didn't seem to notice/mind. With a toddler I was just surprised that he was saying anything not noticing much what he said.

But I took him with me to work the other day and I work with people who are all over 60. Just like I call all of my parent's friends "Mrs/Mr." I assumed he would to...and everyone there said "Oh, just call me ___first name" So I now have him calling them "Miss or Mr. first name" as a sort of compromise...because like Red I want them to be comfortable, but at the same time I want a modicum of manners.

I always figured we would switch into this more easily once elementary school started...but I would love some advice. Part of the trouble is he hears me addressing my friends by their first name and since so much of his talking is repetition learning that is just what comes up.

Elizabeth M said...

There have been times when someone has said, "Oh they can call me [first name." Depending on who it was (if I was comfortable), I've said, "We prefer them to call adults Mr./Mrs." I don't bicker about it, but many have understood and are sometimes pleased that we care about it. If they really don't want to be called by last name, I don't fight it. But it hasn't happened with anyone we see on any even semi-regular basis.

I think some people are just so used to the first names that they don't think about it. We're glad that most of the neighborhood kids' parents agree with us, so Mr./Mrs. is the norm on our street.

Sometimes it does confuse the kids if dh and I talk about "Jane" or "Joe" -- but I'll just explain, "That's Mrs. Jones" and they understand.

Maybe Red's right, some people associate Mr./Mrs. with being old. I think it's just a sign of respect to adults. I also teach religous ed at my parish and alway use Mrs. with parents and kids. As I get to know parents more personally, Elizabeth is fine. But at meetings and on paper it's Mrs. But every year there's at least one mom who I hear refer to me as "Miss Elizabeth" to their child! Even if someone is going to use first names, why do we lose the married status?

Glad you brought this up. Who knew others were running into the same things!

Joanne said...

I don't have a fear of being old, but I do not have the same last name as my husband, so I am not really Mrs. Anyone and I feel funny having little children call me Ms. I try and have my kids (who don't really talk, so it's all theoretical at this point) call people Mr. or Mrs. Lastname but I also want to respect what people want to be called.

Sandra said...

My husband who grew up in NC likes "Miss First Name." I grew up in OK where it was always "Mrs. Last Name." We had a discussion on this just a few weeks ago. We decided it will be "Mrs. Last Name" until the adult tells our sons otherwise.

At church my husband is called Pastor Lee and I'm Miss Sandra, even though I would prefer Mrs. Peoples. Maybe it's the former teacher in me.

texas mommy said...

I do understand that, especially in preschool, kids call teachers by Miss First Name. But I just don't know at what point that switches over to Mrs. Last Name. I don't think I want my boys to be calling other moms by their first names at 7 or 10 or 12.

I think my fear is that the first name calling is part of the more casual and less respectful culture in general, as well as what Red mentioned about parents wanting to be "cool". As Kat pointed out this extends beyond just Miss versus Mrs and to eye contact, please and thank yous, etc.

B-Mama said...

I'm hoping there's a natural progression toward the more formal Mr./Mrs. as my kids get older and head toward schooling age. We have just moved to the "south" (the capital of the Confederacy, at least) and I've been shocked how many times the kids have been asked to use Miss Debbie, Miss Kathy, etc. This doesn't seem to be a regional thing, but possibly a cultural shift as others have mentioned! Very, very interesting...

If anything, I'm ready to buck the trend! We are going to make a concerted effort toward the more formal approach (not to mention the "sir" and "ma'am" more southerly way of speaking!)

Great topic, Texas Mommy!

Juris Mater said...

Great topic, Tex!

Having grown up in the deeeeeep South, I recoiled the first 50 or so times that these ill-bred (laugh) northern children addressed me by my first name. But not a single one of my local friends' kids calls me anything but my first name only! We've compromised by having my kids call most of these moms Miss Firstname, but after reading all your wonderful comments and knowing you all are out there, I'm ready to buck the trend and go back to Mrs./Mr. Lastname. Thanks!!! My husband has always been inclined the correct way, but I've succumbed. Until now.

In other news, Bella (just turned 3) and Bean (almost 2) are sleeping peacefully in our hotel room bed together right now. Is there anything sweeter than two young siblings sleeping together, arms flopped on top of each other, tucked under the same covers? And why am I SO tempted to take a picture every time at the risk of waking both of them up and ruining the whole night? : )

Mary Alice said...

I have noticed that this all gets easier once your children are school aged. Two year olds are mostly exposed to adults who are very close friends of the family. We choose not to call these people aunt and uncle if they are not relatives, so my kids have a few adults (K, for example, and Red) whom they call by their first names. Women who are the moms of their friends I just refer to as Mrs. Lastname and the kids seem fine with that. I have not had a parent correct me on this, but that is one of the benefits of being mostly in a Catholic homeschool environment, people are mindful of these sorts of things and understand that a title also connotes respect and an awareness of a proper relationship.

Thank God we do not have a language with formal and informal 2nd person -- my European friends struggle with the vous/tu distinction in our more casual culture.

Melanie B said...

I think it's partly a regional thing. My best friend grew up in Louisiana where Miss Firstname is the norm and is what is polite.

We haven't got there yet as our oldest is only two and won't even say hi to adults. But I think I actually prefer Miss Firstname to Mrs Lastname.

I think it is easier for kids too. Mrs Lastname can be confusing to children when they hear their parents refer to other adults by first names when the talk to them or about them with other adults. When my husband and I have conversations like this: "Hey, I talked to P. today he and R. want us to come over for dinner." I think it's easier for the children to learn to refer to those adults as Mr P and Miss R rather than Mr and Mrs G. when they never hear us refer to them as the Gs.

So the kids already know the first names of our friends, whereas they would have to learn a last name and remember who it goes with.

I think to me Miss Firstname is a nice compromise. It acknowledges that the adult is not the child's equal-- he or she gets an honorific-- but is easier for children to learn and remember.

Not to mention that at large family and friends get-togethers I'm frequently one of three or four Mrs. Bs. The nieces and nephews call me Auntie, but the kids who are family friends are sort of at a loss as to how to distinguish me from my sisters-in-law and my mother-in-law. Mrs. Melanie is a good compromise to my mind.

k said...

And how difficult was this discussion to have with all the initials and ms mr last name first name! Whew tough to write much less think about.

A Simple Sinner said...

Perhaps the important lesson is to show defference.

Teach the children to ASSUME AND PRESUME to call someone "Mister Smith" or "Missus Jones", and then if and when the adult informs them of another etiquitte protocol that THE ADULT is informing them to follow is what THE ADULT wishes, you can alleviate some of this concern.

This avoids a level of presumed familiarity while respecting the wishes of the elder. I have an uncle who informed me at age 25 that I should and could call him "Rob". I do this because he told me to do so, not because it is my place to assume that familiarity.