ALL RIGHT children, listen up:
Forks on the left. Knives on the right, next to the plate, blades facing in. Use the silverware from the outside in. Dip your spoon and gather your soup away from you, not toward you. It is appropriate to put your forearms on the table; you may even put your elbows on the table when there is no food on the table--but no lounging at the table. Be considerate of your hostess. Take a little bit of everything--even if it's fried liver--eat a tiny bit and kind of smear the rest around. Cut your meat one piece at a time; don't cut it all up before eating like you would for your dog. How you eat gives people a good idea of who you are, so don't chew with your mouth open so you look like a washing machine. Ever eat an olive with a seed in it and wonder where to put it? On the butter plate. That's the place for all the garbage except the fish bones and the gristle. You take them out of your mouth discreetly with your fingers and put them on your dinner plate. Never in your napkin. What if you use your napkin and open it and a fish bone drops out? Gag me with a cocktail fork. And for God's sake, if they put a finger bowl in front of you--don't drink it!!!
Twenty kids, aged 7 to 14, boys and girls together glistening in OPs, Polos and Lacostes, sat in their seats listening attentively. Outside the Florida sun shimmered in the early morning heat. Inside the spoons were silver.
Welcome to table manners day at The Emily Post Summer Camp in Etiquette.
At The Breakers in Palm Beach.
Las Vegas is about money, and Beverly Hills is about rich. You can make it if you try. But Palm Beach is about wealth, and wealth is aboutgenerations, and if you start now, the fact is, you'll never get there. Palm Beach is a wholly owned subsidiary, white and melon yellow with Spanish tile roofs and an elegance so understated that it is virtually unlisted. And at the center of it is The Breakers, patterned after the Villa Medici in Rome, rising like Ozymandias; look upon its work, ye nouveau, and despair.
Except in the off-season. True, the wealthy wouldn't be caught dead in Palm Beach in August. Its famed shopping area, Worth Avenue, is not just closed for the summer--it's gone. They actually plowed it. Signs in the windows tell tourists, see you in September, and even, see you in November. Palm Beach merchants may need tourists, the foot-soldiers of the American Dream, to survive, but that doesn't mean they have to cater to them. Yet August may be the best time to come to stay at The Breakers, to sip from its cup. The Breakers, walking the thin line between class and crass, between breeding and bucks, came up with an idea for an etiquette camp as a way to fill some of its 568 rooms. Come one, come all. Palm trees grow, and rents are low. A package deal for the week. Bring your parents and the cost is $960 for three, including use of all hotel facilities. Be strictly a day camper and the number is $212.50. In summer in Palm Beach the bottom line reads like this: Better to be nouveau-riche than not riche at all.
All right children, listen up:
Today we're going to talk about behaving in public. On the playing fields and in social situations. Good sportsmanship is important. No one likes to see a sore loser or a sore winner. John McEnroe is a great tennis player, but his behavior is scandalous. Remember that what etiquette is all about is simply to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you've just played a good tennis match and you've won, it's all right to feel happy, but remember to go over to your opponent, congratulate him on a good match and give him a firm hand shake. Yes, David?
"What happens when the other guy spits on his hand first?"
Ahem. Dating manners: A gentleman should always open the door for a lady. Gentlemen, if you find yourself in an uncrowded elevator, when the door opens, you should always step to the back or side and let the ladies exit first. In a restaurant gentlemen should always seat the lady on their right. And if a lady approaches the table and stops, either to talk or sit down, gentlemen should always rise and remain standing until the lady either leaves or sits down. Yes, Tracey?
"If I have to go to the bathroom, does my date have to keep standing until I come back?"
The camp ran for six days. The Breakers received the endorsement and blessing of Elizabeth Post, granddaughter-in-law of the avatar of manners herself, Emily Post. Originally the plan was to have two separate six-day sessions, splitting the children into age groups, under and over 10. But this was the first time such a camp was offered, and there simply weren't enough students to fulfill the expectations. The kids who went--and they were overwhelmingly day campers, locals--received an hour of etiquette instruction in the morning, followed by dance instruction for a half-hour, then supervised activities, sports and games, then a half-hour skull-session reviewing the day's lesson in the late afternoon. Etiquette was taught by Joan Coles, a 35-year-old mother of two from Baton Rouge who is tall, thin and blond and possessed of an infectious, lilting laugh and a southern drawl so thick you'd need seven pieces of silverware (forks on the left, knives on the right facing in) to cut it. Just the kind of person you'd think would be teaching an etiquette class.
And why, pray tell, would someone teach etiquette in the 1980s, when Chad is falling, El Salvador buckling and interest rates rising? "I think people feel they want structure," Coles said. "It makes things easier when there are rules. What I'm teaching is important for them to know. I know that some people might think this is just a toy for the rich, an absurd way of spending money, a snobby thing to do. But I think having good manners is for everyone."
And why, my dears, would someone send his child to learn etiquette in the 1980s, when Ride is soaring, Fonda exercising and Taylor (now closing in on double digits) marrying? "Some of my friends probably think it was a little ridiculous, but I thought it'd be a good learning experience," said Barbara Flittner, an antique store owner from near Tampa who sent her two kids, Taft, 14, and Lisa, 12. And from Jane Fetterly, who's in public relations in Palm Beach and who sent her son Mark, 10: "There's no question in my mind that it will help later in life. Eventually you'll have an occupation. Knowing how to conduct yourself socially is a big plus. It may someday be the difference in getting a promotion."
Joan Coles thought enough of what she taught to bring her own kids, Ashley, 12, and Preston, 9, to the camp. They learned about forks, knives, spoons and elevators right along with all the others. Said Ashley, "Some of this stuff is neat. But if a guy doesn't pull your chair out for you or let you get off the elevator first, who cares?"
Tennis camp. Gymnastics camp. Riding camp. Computer camp.
Why not etiquette camp? It's just another specialty camp in an era of specialization.
The question is--Can you dig it?
Most of the children did. Okay, Jamie Ayers, 9, said he wouldn't dare tell his friends that he went, "because if they found out they'd call me a sissy." But that was a minority opinion. Alex MacPherson, 9, was impressed he'd learned "where the silverware goes." Curtis Rollins, 10, was happy he'd learned "to put my napkin in my lap when I sit down." Tracey Rollins, 12, was enthused to learn "how to take care of my nails," as was Lisa Flittner. Even the older boys, such as Taft Flittner and Andrew MacPherson, 11, and Andy Anson, 12, were pleased with the course. "At first I didn't want to come," Andy said. "I thought it was for sissies. But it's not. Sissies don't go out to dinner." But, to tell the truth, they were disappointed that after the classes they still had to be tied to the rest of the group, going to activities with the little girls and boys; they'd rather be golfing, or snorkeling, or tennising, or doing most anything as long as it was physical and unsupervised.
All right children, listen up:
Today we're going to talk about clothing. Color coordination and how to mix and match your outfits. Real snazzy. Y'all are just gonna love this. Girls, I know you want to make the most out of all your clothes. Guys, I . . . guys, now I really think you ought to pay attention. Guys, would you listen up? Guys, don't throw spitballs. Guys, I think we're losing it here. Guys. David. Curtis. Stop that. Now guys, I'd like a volunteer to come up, look through all this clothing I've brought in, and pick out an appropriate outfit to wear to luncheon at the golf club. Guys. Guys, where are your manners? Oh dear, this is taking a nose dive.
"Today was the most fun I had of all," said David O'Neill, 7, the leader of the spitball rebellion. "I like spitballs. I like to learn how to throw stuff at other people. I wanted to have fun today--I didn't want to listen to all this stuff about clothes; I think it's boring. I didn't want to come to this camp in the first place. My mom said I had to."
All right parents, listen up: No paper napkins.