Lucy Bonicelli, my grandmother, used the Italian word creanza to encourage us to rise to every occasion. Creanza [kray-AHN-za] technically means good manners, or politeness, but for Grandma Lucy, it meant a particular level of polish and graciousness. We didn’t always succeed — goodness knows my creanza often flies out the window when I’m driving — but it was, and is, the most worthy of goals.
Yesterday, Regal Entertainment Group announced that it’s testing a new gadget for patrons that alerts ushers when another patron misbehaves. Today, THE NEW YORK TIMES ran an article about how people are insulating their highly decorated homes from all signs of wear and tear — mainly by forcing guests to remove shoes, serving only non-dark items and even wrapping their tables tops in plastic wrap — this is not a joke — before people come over for a party. Then these sadistic elitists watch their guests trembling.
What is going on? Do none of us know how to behave anymore?
Why do people go to the movies if they insist on acting like they’re in their own living rooms? [Where a lot of their behavior would be scary anyway.] And why are the snobs having parties in the first place? They clearly value their possessions more than they value relationships and the comfort of guests. Granted, I’m ultra particular about my stuff and still shudder when I hear breaking china or glass. But I learned a long time ago to stop missing those possessions — and to stop obsessing over breakage or stains left behind after some fun. Now when I look at an incomplete set of glassware or an old stain, I let them remind me of the good time associated with it.
There’s a flip side, too. We are missing many opportunities to teach children how to be part of their community and how to behave at a nice party in a well-appointed home or even in a slow food restaurant. We are so focused on not scarring children that I’m worried that we’re not teaching them how to socialize and take interest in the needs and talents of other people. Even though I’m not just a member of the Scarred For Life Club, I am its president, I’m grateful that I learned how to appreciate things with my eyes and to walk slowly around a room at a young age. We’re doing kids a great disservice when we demand that they remove their shoes but allow them to treat a beautiful living room as a running track. No wonder people are showing up to work with flip-flops and have never seen a real handkerchief. There are now training classes in etiquette at corporations — because we’re creating people who don’t even know to watch and learn from more experienced colleagues or — heaven forgive the phrase — authority figures.
Maybe this is all out of step. When newly elected Senator Webb committed his faux pas in the White House earlier this week, no one seemed to blink except George Will. I’m thinking the senator might be on the same power trip as the woman who would rather see her guests huddled in a corner than enjoying a red beverage while standing on her rug. Me, well, I’m content to just watch the self-absorption parade from a distance. I think they all need to get plastic slipcovers and a copy of Letitia Baldrige’s latest book on manners. Or George Washington’s little book on civilized behavior. Or some creanza.