By Ray Downs
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By RFT Staff
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Everding got her start at the age of seventeen when she was offered a full scholarship to Patricia Stevens College in St. Louis, then a modeling and finishing school, in exchange for teaching classes in etiquette. "I fell in love with it," she says.
In 1982, she established her first etiquette business, Pretty As A Picture. She taught manners to teenage girls at Saks Fifth Avenue. The first year, she had 37 students. The next year, enrollment swelled to 210. She eventually began to teach boys and adults, too. She then moved the classes to Dillard's and expanded to 150 cities in the U.S. and Mexico.
She sold the business in 2004 — "the thought of telling another child how to shake hands..." she says, shaking her head — and switched to teaching business etiquette, mostly to college students and young professionals. She charges $2,000 for a two-day seminar.
"College kids are so much fun," she says. "They're eager and moldable. Teenagers look at you like you have four heads, but college kids really want to learn. They have atrocious table manners."
Everding recently published an updated edition of her business-etiquette guide Panache That Pays, which contains such invaluable nuggets of wisdom as "Use your napkin, because nothing is finger lickin' good (apologies to the Colonel)," "Jello shots are not business drinks," and "Cleavage should show only on your time."
Broyles and Tice also stumbled unexpectedly into the world of etiquette, Broyles through her previous career in human resources and Tice during a year studying abroad in England, where she also developed a passion for tea. They both try to transmit their enthusiasm for manners to their students. To do this, particularly with boys, Broyles resorts to necktie-tying contests. "They won't admit they like it," she says.
Back at the Coffee Cartel, Broyles' interrogation concludes with a question of utmost importance:
Is it ever OK to drink beer out of a bottle?
Broyles sighs. "A lady should drink beer out of a glass. Have I ever drunk beer out of a bottle?" She hesitates now, as though about to confess a major transgression. "Yes. Sometimes beer just tastes better out of a bottle."
"Cleanse not your teeth with the Table Cloth, Napkin, or Fork or Knife. Spit not in the fire. Kill no Vermin as Flees, lice, ticks & cet. in the Sight of Others." — George Washington, age fifteen
Etiquette guides have existed for as long as people have been around to write them. The earliest surviving manual is The Instructions of Ptahhotep, dating back to 2300 B.C. Scholars believe Ptahhotep was the vizier to the Egyptian pharaoh Isesi, and the instructions were addressed to his son.
Ptahhotep did not go into great detail about the uses of serving utensils and the proper way to write a thank-you note. Instead, he was more concerned with issues of court behavior, largely humility, which he considered more essential than table manners in getting ahead.
Maria Everding keeps a collection of old etiquette books in the living room of her home in Town & Country and enjoys unearthing fascinating facts on the history of manners.
"People stick out their pinkies when they drink tea," she explains, "because back in the Middle Ages, before most people had forks, uncouth people would eat with their whole hand. Couth people only used their thumb and forefinger."
The first napkins, called mapas, were large cloths the size of beach towels which the Romans would lie on and then use as bundles to carry extra food home. The handshake developed as a way of proving that one was unarmed. Everding's least-favorite custom, the clinking of glasses after a toast, evolved from the habit of people pouring wine into each other's cups to prove that nobody had poisoned anyone.
Not everyone appreciated the evolution of manners: In 1005, St. Peter Damian attributed the death of a young Venetian noblewoman not to the plague (its apparent cause), but to God's wrath, which she incurred by using a fork and sometimes daring to take a bath in fresh water.
The word "etiquette" itself comes from the eighteenth-century French court. "When you left court," Everding recounts, "they would give you a little piece of paper — an etiquette — with a tip for proper behavior written on it, and as you left, they would say, 'Study your etiquette!'"
This system came to an end with the French Revolution. Court manners were scorned in America as well: The Founding Fathers, particularly Thomas Jefferson, viewed them as contrary to the notion that all men are created equal. Jefferson himself wrote a new code of White House etiquette, which eliminated all social distinctions, even those between visiting dignitaries and servants. It also allowed him to greet the French ambassador in bedroom slippers.
Most Americans showed as little concern for manners as Jefferson. "The total and universal want of manners, both in males and females, is...remarkable," wrote British author Frances Trollope in her 1832 book Domestic Manners of the Americans. "That polish which removes the coarser and rougher parts of our nature is unknown and undreamed of."
It was not until the late 1800s when older members of New York society, aghast at the invasion of vulgar "new money," devised a daunting system of social rules — not to mention silverware — meant to repel anyone of humble origins who dared sit down at one of their twelve-course dinners. It was the Victorians who gave us such useful implements as the strawberry knife.