Don’t Embarrass Me or Else Etiquette

My brother took the brunt of strict parenting so six years later, when I was born, my parents were either too bushed or had become too sensible to summon the strength to be strict.

They had their limits, though. Dad enforced his restriction against guys hanging out in my room behind closed doors. He worded it slightly differently: No entertaining males in your bedroom.  I bristled at being told what to do and my big protest, which he found hilarious, culminated in my taping to my door a stick-figure sketch of me doing the Can-Can.

Mom had her limits, too. If I dared to cross those invisible etiquette rules I inevitably heard her icy remark: Don’t Embarrass Me.

Those three words drove me to action by cajoling me to call a distant relative I didn’t see often or know very well to thank them for whatever gift they had sent. Her Don’t Embarrass Me threat also inspired me to write thank yous that rose above the rote. The one time I tried to get away with dashing off a quick, possibly impersonal note, she broke open the sealed envelope, deemed the card crappy and sent me back to my desk.

I had better things to do. Ride my bike, play handball, collect snails in the backyard. I recently remembered my disenchantment with obligatory note writing when I helped a friend’s daughter secure a job to help pay her college tuition. I’ve only met her once, but she impressed me as a serious student. I asked my friend if his kid got the job.

“She started last week. Didn’t she thank you?”

“Uh, no.”

He proceeded to tell me that despite his and his wife’s best efforts to get her to be more gracious, the student was overly lax on thank yous. In fact, her aunt grew tired of it so along with her congratulations-on-getting-into-college card and check, she also included a blank thank you card, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Hint, hint.

The next day I did get a lovely thank you for the help with the job….from the student’s mother.

Last week, another mom I know covered for her son when he failed to rsvp to a holiday lunch I hosted. When I mentioned that her son hadn’t rsvp’d, she apologized and said he couldn’t make it due to a conflict with his class schedule.

As much as I resented my mom’s Don’t Embarrass Me threat, I see that she did me a big favor. She trained me to be considerate when I would’ve much preferred to be naming my snails.

In the meantime, I’ve got to hand it to the kids. Even with Facebook, Twitter, Skype, texting and all the access to social media that allow them to communicate, they’ve still managed to train us moms to handle their etiquette duties for them.

Author Description

Cynthia Baseman

Cynthia Baseman is the author of 'Love, Mom: A Mother's Journey from Loss to Hope.' She writes about motherhood, the environment and education.

There are 15 comments. Add yours

  1. 2nd October 2012 | gloria KaplanGloria Kaplan says: Reply
    Would it not be wonderful if our children could comply with our simple wishes of a simple written thank you note? In today's world, demands on our childrens time is horrendous. Let's give them a chance and a little encouragement and they will learn to write like Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  2. 30th September 2012 | dorothea shefer-vanson says: Reply
    I've catching-up on your recent posts, and enjoyed them all. I imagine I'm not the first to tell you that you write well. I especially appreciated the piece about thank-you notes. My childhood was also beset by the parental requirement to write those dratted notes, but for some unaccountable reason I complied. Until I was 21, that is, and left home. My failure to write a thank-you note to one particular aunt caused a serious family dispute, I'm sorry to say. My children simply shrug my demands off and say 'nobody in Israel does it,' and I suppose they're right. And I liked your piece about your vampire husband, having a similar one at home. His routine is very different from mine ('morning person' as opposed to 'night-time person'), and I think I may well devote a future post to him. He certainly deserves it. But the credit for the idea is certainly yours.
    • 30th September 2012 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      I can think of a few kids who might consider Israel a fine destination to avoid the dreaded thank-you note obligations.
  3. 27th September 2012 | Debbie Naiman says: Reply
    With the advent of technology, so much of our communication is impersonal. I believe in putting pen to paper and talking on the phone, and appreciate that my kids do too. Yet I notice neither of my kids (15 & 12) use cursive and actually are not sure how to write in cursive!! I remember that being a requirement from my mom; "write Aunt Betty a nice thank you note and it better be in cursive!"
    • 27th September 2012 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      Funny you bring up the cursive - the way my kids' write it, it could pass for some kind yet untranslated hieroglyphics!
  4. 27th September 2012 | Christina Simon says: Reply
    There's still nothing better than a handwritten note on beautiful stationary! But, an email will do too:) What I can't stand is when people don't RSVP to a party or event where I must have a count for the caterer, etc. And, the no-shows are always irritating!
  5. 27th September 2012 | Katie Hurley says: Reply
    I've always been big on thank you notes's just nice to send a hand written note, I think. My kids are so little that those notes currently consist of two words and a name ;)
  6. 27th September 2012 | Mike says: Reply
    Bad manners have no age limit. Once again if we do everything for our children they will never learn. Take them by the ear and say write the thank you note! It's amazing how they will forget the thank you note but not the ear pulling. I belive you had a prior post about doing everything for your kids?
    • 27th September 2012 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      The theme of the 'Hover Parent' isn't going away anytime soon, unfortunately.
  7. 27th September 2012 | Carpool Goddess says: Reply
    Oh how I loved playing handball too (good memories). I used to have to write good thank you notes too. Now I struggle with the issue of email or snail mail thank you notes with my kids. I'd love to know your thoughts.
    • 27th September 2012 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      E-mail works in a pinch, however; if the gift is particularly thoughtful, I believe there's no substitute for pen and paper. Up for a handball re-match?
  8. 27th September 2012 | Hayley says: Reply
    Let's extend this issue to adults. I hosted a dinner last night where I personally carried in tables and chairs to make sure I had a full place setting for all 31 of my guests. I had 6 guests "no show." Not one of them called me on the telephone to let me know or to apologize in advance. A close friend was ill. She sent an email first thing in the morning beforehand and that was acceptable to me. I received an email from another couple when the dinner was over - they sent it an hour or two before the dinner was due to begin. The other family had a member that wasn't feeling well. I found out about it from another guest as she arrived and received an apology email this morning. Perhaps I wouldn't have thought twice about it if it was only one or two people. But I went to extra effort, time and expense and I would have had one less table and less food if I knew I'd be hosting 6 less people. Looks like people of all ages could use a lesson in etiquette.
    • 27th September 2012 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      Really a buzz kill when you're hosting and some of the guests are MIA.
  9. 27th September 2012 | Elaine says: Reply
    Love this. I'm tempted to forward this post to my kids - just as a reminder of what they should and shouldn't do - but I know they probably don't read half the articles I send them. Thanks BH Mom.
    • 27th September 2012 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      I feel your pain, but suspect your kids are doing the right thing without you knowing it:)

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