Minding my manners

Greg Doering

At first I assumed the invitation to an etiquette dinner had found its way to my inbox by mistake. After a little reflection, I wondered if it was the beginning of a scheme where I would be held up as an example of everything you’re not supposed to do.

Still, I cautiously accepted and was soon in charge of leading introductions for a handful of college students who traded a couple hours of their time to learn about proper protocol in formal dining scenarios. Or, like me, they signed up for the free meal.

In any event, I was merely a facilitator for networking and conversation. The heavy lifting fell to K-State’s College of Agriculture and Kansas Soybean Commission, which served as hosts for the evening. The basic idea of the night was for the students getting ready for their first job or summer internships to follow the social cues that dictate business meals and formal social celebrations.

I must admit the manners I’ve acquired over the years have been learned the hard way. This is mostly because I’m a slow learner with a penchant for violating social norms. My timing was always impeccable, though.

Like the Christmas dinner where I called for some to “pass the (expletive removed, but it rhymes with jam) mashed potatoes.” My grandfather quickly quipped, “Take his presents out from under the tree.”

A few years later we were homeward bound after a long road trip through Wyoming and Montana when we stopped for dinner at restaurant. It was fancy, too. I know it was because it had cloth napkins, and they were bright red.

For some reason I grabbed the napkin, unfurled it and waved it with both hands while shouting “olé”. My family was less than enthused with my impromptu impression of a matador. It was short lived because I didn’t dodge the bull (my dad) who snatched the napkin with one hand while directing me to a chair with the other. Somehow I was still allowed back in the car to complete the journey.

There was no swearing or wild gestures at my recent dinner, but there also weren’t any mashed potatoes to be passed. The presenter covered things like not ordering the most expensive item on a menu, when it’s OK to order alcohol at a business dinner and how to politely excuse yourself to check your phone.

Everyone was polite and well behaved, and I didn’t see any of the students checking their phones throughout the dinner. The room was full of bright, capable young people eager for the chance to hone a skill. No doubt the world will be a better place when they’re in charge of things.

My colleagues today may disagree, but I believe I’ve matured quite a bit. While I’m still a slow learner and can be quite stubborn, I’m better at minding my manners. Or at least I think I am. I’ll have to wait to see if I’m invited back to next year’s dinner.

Greg Doering is a writer and photographer for Kansas Farm Bureau.