Saturday was a socially busy day for me. At noon I attended a farewell luncheon in my honor hosted by my husband's boss's wife. It was a small, casual affair - thank goodness - in my favorite local restaurant. My two older daughters were invited. Unfortunately, I did not sit the girls down in advance and explain protocol. I assumed, wrongly, that they could follow on the spot cues. They're not little children any more.
They weren't bad, really. But since we were all seated at one long table with me at the head, and they to my right and left, their non-stop chattering and complete disregard for the adult conversation at the table prevented me to some degree from hearing and participating in it. I asked them repeatedly to quiet down, but they didn't get that I meant their conversation was rude; they only thought that it was too loud.
At home, I sat them down and told them I was disappointed in their behavior. I explained that they were invited to the event with the understanding and expectation that they could - for a few hours - behave as adults. I told them that side conversations were inappropriate in that setting and that if I have to ask them more than once or twice to be quiet they should have realized that no volume of noise was acceptable.
They were very disheartened and felt badly for not living up to my expectations. Not wanting to leave them in such a state, I also explained that many children older than they - in fact, many adults - were frequently guilty of the same behavior. I told them that I permit them to go to some adult functions/places as they get older so that I can teach them proper behavior so that they won't be one of those rude adults. Better to have your mother correct you when you are 10, then your boss to correct you when you are 20. Or worse: to be labeled a rude person, possibly even without your knowledge.
That night, I attended a dinner hosted by Operation Homefront. I'm not really sure of all the things this organization does, and I was afraid to ask, because the hostess promised us a 20 minute talk if we didn't know. My husband attended a dinner they did up in Hilton Head, SC, back in April - this one was specifically for wives of wounded soldiers. Saturday's event was just for Army wives with no specific group targeted other than the 3rd ID (the Division here at Ft. Stewart).
I really don't know why I felt I should go, but, as usual, I am glad I did. There was a good speaker, and I ended up buying her book. I'll read it and review it (sometime).
One would think that a roomful of Army wives would behave properly, even though this wasn't a specifically military event. Unfortunately, I have noticed in the last few years that even specifically military functions are lacking in proper behavior.
There are lots of rules at a military function. I don't even get them all right. I watch others if I'm not sure what to do and when to do it. Sometimes I do research in advance, especially if I fear eyes will be on me looking for guidance. Sometimes, everybody stands; sometimes only service members stand. Do you put your hand over your heart during the National Anthem? Does the man or woman go through the receiving line first? How do you introduce yourself? Making mistakes is understandable - I have seen some behind-the-scenes planning for formal functions and know that committees spend a lot of time hammering out the details and researching the right way to do things. There are protocol offices whose job it is to answer questions and remind event planners of certain requirements.
But the average event attendee doesn't need a book, website or class on most of that stuff. Most people can just rely on good old common sense: make eye contact, smile, shake hands firmly, state your name clearly, keep conversations neutral and on-topic, and be situationally aware: if everybody at your table stands, so should you.
Somehow, though, one basic lesson seems to have not been taught: do not speak when someone is at a podium addressing the group. In other words, know when side conversations are completely inappropriate. At Saturday's event, I think at least half the group failed to observe this basic principle. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Over and over again, the guest speaker would capture everyone's attention and then tell an amusing anecdote - only to have the break for laughter be an excuse for people to begin talking with their neighbor. She was pretty loud, and she had a microphone, yet I still had difficulty hearing some of her talk. I was embarrassed to be a part of the group.
This wasn't a unique situation. Most of the events I have attended in the past few years seem to have this problem. I do think that the more civilians that are present (and I am a civilian, even though I'm married to a non-civilian), the worse it is. But I wonder now if those in uniform only behave because they wear their name and rank on their chest and so might face disciplinary action for their rudeness...or do they truly respect a speaker's right to not have to shout over unrelated conversations to have herself heard?
After that lunch with my daughters, it was a great lesson for me in how important it is to teach them now how to behave. I do believe that rudeness has repercussions, eventually. Perhaps not at that dinner or at that job or at that time. But, eventually, habitually bad behavior will find it's own punishment.