Are your parents always reminding you to "Put your napkin in your lap," or "Get your elbows off the table"? Do even your friends get grossed out by your burping at the table? Do you feel nervous about introducing yourself to new people?
Perhaps you could use an etiquette class.
There are manners to follow for all sorts of situations: dining etiquette, business etiquette, bowling etiquette. There's even etiquette for using the World Wide Web, called "netiquette."
"Etiquette" comes from a French word for ticket. That "ticket" referred to a list of rules given to visitors to the French court several hundred years ago -- rules about not walking on the flowers, for example.
Sometimes people still need help remembering the rules of polite behavior, so they take a class from someone such as etiquette expert Kimberly Sauer. She explains manners to everyone from preschoolers to grandparents. "I'm in the nice business," she likes to say. "I teach people how to be nice."
Recently, Sauer led a dining etiquette class for 8- to 12-year-olds at the Potomac Community Center. Not one of the 10 boys and six girls had shown up because it was his or her idea; every one had been signed up for the class by a mom or dad.
Some of the parents wanted their children to act better at the dinner table. Others wanted them to learn about setting the table correctly. All of them hoped their children would pay more attention to the rules if taught by an expert.
A few of the boys admitted that their manners could use improvement. "Sometimes I make sounds when I'm chewing," said Eric Shiang, who is almost 9. "Sometimes when I'm chewing gum I make a loud noise."
But why bother learning a bunch of rules about how to act? Well, Sauer says etiquette can make your life easier.
For example, etiquette makes you feel comfortable. If you know the rules about eating, you can relax, says Sauer, whether "you're dining at the White House or even Wendy's."
Knowing the rules about introducing yourself can make it easier for you to meet people, because you'll know what you should say. And if you know what's expected of you at a party, whether you are the host or hostess or a guest, you can enjoy yourself more.
Just as important, if you act nice, other people feel better.
Sauer asked students what they thought when other people have bad manners. "Disgusting," "annoying" and "distracting" were some answers.
When people pick their noses, one boy said, "It's just plain, outright nasty."
Sauer taught the kids about rules for parties, and how to write a proper invitation and thank-you note. But what the kids seemed to enjoy most was learning about the weird utensils, including fish forks and marrow spoons, and learning how to use the tableware correctly. (Did you know there are two ways to hold your knife and fork and cut your food? They are called American and Continental dining styles.)
The kids agreed that the class was more fun than they expected.
"The most exciting thing was learning more manners," said Nicholas Stopak, 8. "I think I've totally done it now."
Nicholas's father, Sam Stopak, agreed that he had seen some improvement in Nicholas and his brother and sister. "I thought they were better mannered at the dinner table this week," he said. "They were making less noise when they were chewing their food."
-- Elizabeth Chang