by Susan McBride
I don’t claim to be an expert on etiquette. Everyone in my family has probably caught me talking with my mouth full once too often (although I try not to, really!). My Midwestern mother worked hard to instill a sense of etiquette in me, and I can still quote the infamous ditty about “Mabel.” If you’re unfamiliar, it goes like this: “Mabel, Mabel, if you’re able, get your elbows off the table.” I can’t imagine asking for anyone to pass the pepper without prefacing the request with a “please.” No, I was never sent for lessons in How to Use the Proper Fork like my debutantes in THE DEBS, or even to Little Miss Manners classes like Andy Kendricks, the debutante dropout in my mysteries. But I do know that one’s bread dish should be placed on the left and one’s drink on the right (something I remember by making a “b” and a “d” with the thumbs and fingers of each hand, a trick learned long ago).
I realize that everything I need to know about etiquette I learned in kindergarten, or at least by grade school. The basics my mother taught me way back when still seem to apply pretty well to almost everything I do, like these golden oldies:
**Don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve (er, unless you can’t find a Kleenex and the hem of the tablecloth won’t reach that high).
**Don’t blow your nose in public (particularly if you honk like an elephant).
**Don’t put peas up your nose (hmm, I’m noticing a recurrent “nose” theme).
**Don’t swallow your gum, or it takes seven years to digest (I believe Wrigley’s did a study on this using the Doublemint Twins as guinea pigs, God rest their twisted intestines).
**Always wear clean underwear, because you never know when you may be in an accident (hence, my request for Victoria’s Secret gift cards last Christmas).
**Don’t run with scissors (though it did work for Augustine Burroughs, didn’t it?).
**Never sit with your knees apart (someone should tell Britney Spears about that one).
For the most part, these are excellent rules, and I break them only in extreme cases (say, if I can’t find a Kleenex). As a published author of 10 years who tries to be as well-mannered as possible, I’ve developed my own set of “Road Rules” for promoting books which I’m happy to share. Granted, I’m no Letitia Baldridge or Emily Post. More like Marge Simpson (whose directness I admire). If my pearls of wisdom seem obvious–or odd–well, it was late when I wrote this and my nightly cocktail of chamomile tea and Benadryl had already started to kick in, so cut me some slack.
**Cleanliness is next to Godliness. I don’t know how often the Man Upstairs (or Goddess Upstairs) showers, but I’ll bet it’s everyday, and almost certainly before a book signing. I can’t guarantee that smelling like Irish Spring will draw the buying hordes, but it makes a far better impression than reeking like unwashed gym socks.
*Be polite to fellow airport dwellers during travel delays. I figure it’s okay to talk to these strangers, as the people at your gate have already been prescreened to some extent. If they’re allowed to fly, you know they’re not on the terrorist watch list, and they’re not packing lighters, bottles with more than 3 ounces of fluid, or other weapons of mass destruction in their carry-on bags. And you never know whose conversation will become fodder for your writing some day. A layover in the Columbia, SC, airport years ago allowed me time to chat with an author from Mississippi who happened to be on her town’s debutante selection committee. Without her, I never would have heard the terms “debu-tank” and “debu-trash,” which I promptly stole for my DEBS series about Houston debutantes. See what I mean!
**Never rearrange a bookseller’s display to more prominently showcase your titles, unless you’ve got Nate the Decorator from “Oprah” with you and he’s re-doing the space on Ms. Winfrey’s dime. I know, I know…word on the street is that turning your covers face-out at every opportunity is mandatory. But it’s more polite to approach the bookseller and offer to sign any available stock (upon which “autographed” stickers will promptly be slapped), practically guaranteeing that your books will be turned cover-out or even moved to more expensive real estate, like an end-cap. Think about it: when booksellers visit your home, they aren’t allowed to rearrange your furniture. So fair’s fair.
**Always say “thank you” any time that people have gone out of their way to help you. If you don’t like writing notes on monogrammed stationery then a gracious email will suffice. Like my great aunt Gertrude always said, “A thank you is worth a thousand peas up your nose, so long as your legs are crossed and you’re wearing clean underwear.” That Gertie was a wise woman.
P.S. Thanks again to the fabulous ladies of the Stiletto Gang for inviting me to join their ranks. I look forward to posting the first Friday of the month from now on. And I promise to be on my best behavior or you can tattle to my mother.