What Manners of Men…? (Part II)

Today we are finishing up our marriage situation post. You can read the first post here. As a disclaimer, I really don’t know if the information on the picture is accurate! Any international friends can feel free to correct it in the comments : ) As usual, my comments will be normal and Paul’s will be shaded.

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That first argument about manners wasn’t constructive.  No opinions changed. Much judgement was levied and we left the conversation convinced of nothing more than our boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s recalcitrant nature.  We made the unspoken decision to “put a pin in” the topic and then left it alone. Soon we got married and began arguing/discussing many things of greater significance than etiquette.  But God continued to grow us, and we learned how to debate topics without personally attacking the other person or their family. In fact, instead of judging them, we each learned to value many aspects of the other’s family culture, including the degree to which manners were observed during day-to-day life. I came to love, and still miss those Sunday-night Snyder family dinners and all the happy chaos that ruled during those few hours. But more than just enjoying those differences, we discovered that they were just that – merely differences. One was not better than the other. One did not indicate more godliness than the other. The wonderful thing about marrying into a new family is the ability to see how God has uniquely shaped another group of people and used them to glorify him in a particular place and time. At first, this cultural acclimation is an uncomfortable and humbling experience. Giving up the belief that OUR way is THE way does not come naturally to us (it does come supernaturally!), but doing it opens up a new world of  life choices.

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As our children were born, and once we had a more biblical perspective on family culture, we revisited the topic of etiquette. What would we teach our children? What biblical paradigms would shape our decisions? We didn’t want them to make the same mistakes that we had made when entering a new social culture. Whereas Liz and I felt slighted during those awkward meals, and allowed our discomfort to make us judgmental, we want our kids to think the best of the people God places them with.  We also want them to be alert enough to see and willing enough to change their habits when others are uncomfortable. To that end, here are a few things that we have come up with so far. 

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First, we will teach them that manners are always and only to be used to make people (saved or unsaved) feel loved (e.g., comfortable). We don’t know what culture our children will be called to in the future. Given this uncertainty, we will try to prepare our children for various types of social settings. Jack, Brenn and Meg will need to learn the finer points of etiquette in case God calls them to the upper echelons of society, involving a slew of black tie dinners (hey, it’s possible…they just might not ever invite their father :-) But they will also need to know how to be comfortable eating outside, off paper plates in less than perfectly sanitary conditions. We want them to have flexible love for others. Paul was willing to become “all things to all men” for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor 9:19-23). Similarly, we want our children to move through life without the trappings of a “my way is the right way!” mentality. 

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Second, we will teach them that, one day, they will have the responsibility for setting the “manners” level in their homes. However, until then they will have to follow the level that Liz and I determine. Granted, we sincerely hope that as the boys (and girl) grow, some of our rules can be shelved. But right now, we have rules in place that help toddler boys show love to the people around them. These include (but are not limited too), “don’t burp or commit other bodily indiscretions in front of your mama and sister (and women in general)”,  “shut the door while you use the restroom”, “wash your hands after using the restroom”, “don’t sit on the floor of a public bathroom when going to the restroom”, “don’t use the toilet for anything OTHER than using the restroom”, (as an aside, with boys, there are alot of restroom rules : P ) “don’t interrupt a conversation or at least say, ‘excuse me’ if you really have to interrupt”, “don’t lick other people’s utensils”, “don’t talk in a whiny voice”, “look at people when they speak to you”, and “use ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ when appropriate.”  As the boys (and girl) age, we anticipate adding new rules. But always the goal will be the love and comfort of others and a willingness to follow their parents’ directives. 

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Third and finally, we will teach our children not to lord their manners over others. Manners are not a cultural badge of honor to be used as weapons of superiority and discrimination. When they see someone who doesn’t function comfortably with whatever rules of etiquette they choose to live by, they need to be able to notice and adapt and go “up” or “down” to that person’s level.  They need to be able and willing  to do this without judging the “lowers” as crass and the “uppers” as snobs and themselves as “awesome.” I think this is an application of “think of others as better than themselves.” Instead of asking everyone to meet some objective standard of manners and to mock them if they don’t, meet people wherever they are.

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We used the illustration of dining etiquette in these posts, but we have used these guidelines to create most of our “house rules.” They range from dinner-time manners to laundry habits when guest are staying over. Within your home, I’d imagine you may come up with rules that I wouldn’t even think of. And that’s ok : ) Now, you won’t find black-tie level rules at our table these days (I’m just shooting to keep utensils out of the drinking glasses at this point!) but I do hope that anyone who sits down for a meal will find that our home is welcoming.

4 Comments

  • Debbi Cavanaugh says:

    I remember a few Snyder family Sunday-night dinners (Liz & Andy tried to warn me before my first one…). They were crazy but fun!

  • Desiree says:

    I love this post, especially because I’ve witnessed the years it was in the making. :) This is really encouraging.

    Manners are so culturally bound that I always try to make a habit of qualifying most descriptions of “rude” behavior. I tell Chloe, “In American culture, it is extremely rude to spit out food!” or “When Chinese people offer you things, you need to sometimes tell them no–if you always say yes, you will seem like a greedy girl.”

    I hope that it helps them in the future to see manners and these kinds of behaviors as appropriate in specific contexts, not rules by which to judge people. I have so often heard people say, “____ people are so rude!” Well… maybe not. If their definitions of “rude” and “polite” are different, likely, they are thinking the same thing about you!

    Again, thanks so much for your post! It’s a blessing to see how you’ve resolved this issue, and it’s given me some ideas for how to use manners to teach my children and myself to love people.

  • Desiree says:

    Oh, and as a P.S.
    In Shanghai at least, I have never witnessed belching at a nice dinner. I have witnessed plenty of bodily functions in contexts Americans would find shocking, but not at meals. I think saying “Do belch” is an overstatement at the very least. :P

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