Pleases And Thank Yous

I had a New York grandmother who was nothing like any of the Georgia grandmothers my friends and schoolmates had. She worked in Wall Street until she was in her 70s, shopped the sales at Lord & Taylor, wore jangly bracelets, and was famous for the batches of you’d-better-be-sitting-down-when-you-drink-one Manhattans she mixed up in her monogrammed cocktail shaker.

She spent the last dozen years of her life in Georgia, but always considered Southerners, including her only granddaughter, perplexing. There were things she simply didn’t get about her adopted region – like why people lived in houses instead of apartments or why they shopped at a big grocery store once a week instead of stopping in every day at the local market.

But what she loved instantly and constantly about the South and Southerners was our friendliness, our civility, our courtesy. She was beguiled by the day-to-day niceties, the

“Hey, how’re you today?” greetings from strangers, the pleasant nods and smiles from policemen and mail carriers and salesclerks. And even though it took some getting used to, she came to like being addressed, “Yes, ma’am” and conceded that it sounded nicer than “Yeah, lady?”

She was a sucker for well-behaved children and good manners and was particularly susceptible to the charms of one of my Georgia-side-of-the-family uncles whom she called “a real Southern gentleman.”

And, apparently, I have started the process of turning into my grandmother. I did not inherit her sense of style, and I never did develop a taste for Manhattans. But the other day I heard myself describe a teenaged boy I’d just encountered in a restaurant as having “such nice manners.” It could be just a matter of time before I’m wearing noisy jewelry and wondering why people don’t talk faster.

Nonetheless, I admit it’s a real pleasure to be around people – of any age – who are congenial, thoughtful and polite. People who take the time to ask how you are and stick around to listen to the response, people who make eye contact when they are speaking to you. People who understand that life’s rough spots can be made smoother with a kind word or gesture.

I’ve actually learned a few new etiquette lessons myself and come to understand that manners can be relaxed and informal and still be mannerly. My grandmother would disapprove, but I’m completely over being annoyed when a person – generally a person many years younger than I – responds to a thank-you with a “No problem.” It is, I have come to realize, just another way of saying “You’re welcome.” And the name thing: Not everybody who first-names strangers is trying to be overly-familiar; for most, it’s a gesture of goodwill, an attempt to put people at ease.

Frankly, I’ll take all the pleases and thank-yous and friendly gestures anybody wants to offer – and if a few “no problems” and “Hey, Susans” get thrown into the mix, that’s fine.

There’s a practical side to all of this, too. Good manners are good business.

At work, we’ve turned away rude or unresponsive vendors and declined to do business with overly-aggressive sales and marketing folks.

Outside of the office, I go to considerable trouble to patronize a dry cleaning establishment whose proprietors do good work and take the time to be pleasant. To get to their place, I drive past two cleaners staffed by sullen incompetents who wouldn’t know a coffee stain from a welcome mat.

I bought Girl Scout cookies that I don’t want just because the young saleswoman who rang my doorbell was polite and businesslike. I bought a fancier cell phone than I actually need because the salesperson answered my questions with courtesy and care, minus any hard sell.

I came very close to closing the accounts I have at a bank where I have been a customer for many years because the manager of a branch near my office gave me a hard time about an IRS refund check I was trying to deposit. He scowled at me, scowled at the check, scowled into his computer and finally said, with obvious reluctance, “I think I can authorize this.”

Because I was running late – a quick lunch-hour drive-through deposit turned into 10 minutes of cooling my heels in the lobby and five minutes of being scowled at – I did not take time that day to sever my business relations with the bank. But I’m still thinking about it, thank you very much.

Categories: Business Casual