By Sarah Jackson, Herald Writer
Shaking hands seems simple enough.
But when you’re 6 years old, it can be kind of complicated.
“Everybody find that web of skin on your hand,” said etiquette instructor Linda Savage, pointing to the spot between her thumb and index finger. “Our webs should touch.”
“Who would have thought there were rules for shaking someone’s hand?” Savage said. “But there are!”
When it came time for Jackson Moody, 6, to give it a try, he made an impression.
“Jackson just did something perfect,” Savage said, looking back at the class while still shaking Jackson’s hand. “He just looked me right in the eye.”
It wasn’t so easy for other students who couldn’t help but avoid eye contact. It’s OK, Savage said, to look at an adult’s nose if you’re scared or nervous.
During handshake practice, most students offered up limp and reluctant hands to Savage.
“OK, Lauren, I don’t even know you’re there,” Savage said, gently shaking hands with Lauren Delsignore, 7, during a practice round. “Can you give me a little more pressure, a little more squeeze?
“There you go.”
If this seems like an odd way for a group of 13 kids, ages 6 to 11, to spend three hours on a hot July day, think again.
This is Young Ladies and Gentleman, a sort of Politeness 101, including lessons in basic etiquette, posture, body language, conversation skills, table manners, telephone protocols, formal introductions and the essentials of personal care.
Kids, it was no surprise to parents, had the most trouble with the section on dining.
“There are no body parts on the table when we eat. Part of eating is what you see,” Savage told the class, adding: “We don’t stab food when we eat, we pierce it. We don’t saw our food. We place the fork just in front of the food and draw it back.”
Savage, an etiquette instructor for the past three years with Final Touch Finishing School, kept the students smiling, excited and on the edge of their seats at a recent class held in Edmonds as part of the parks and recreation programming.
Rachael Darrow of Edmonds enrolled her girls, Samara, 11, and Hannah, 8, in the class to help them learn and practice the fundamentals of manners.
“When we were growing up, there was more interaction,” she said. “Nowadays kids are entertaining themselves with cell phones and text messages. It’s very different.
“I think it’s important they learn the proper ways to interact with people. We can’t eliminate the technology. It’s finding a balance.”
Though they are already polite and kind, Darrow’s daughters did learn new things, including how to introduce two people who haven’t met, including whom to introduce first, and how to keep a conversation going after the introduction.
Hannah, who said afterward that the class was “really good,” added, “We never really learned how to do introductions.”
Students also learned how to identify salad and dessert forks, where to place bread plates and water glasses when setting a table and how to properly use a napkin at the dinner table.
“These things don’t seem to be important, but they’re the basics,” Rachael Darrow, 39, said. “It’s the foundation you need so you can build from there.”
“They had a great time. It’s great stuff.”
Savage, a substitute schoolteacher from Snohomish, said parents and schools used to teach basic etiquette.
But as society has become increasingly busy and informal, it’s been pushed aside.
“Your grandmother knew the skills that we’re teaching. They were taught at home, they were taught at school and it was reinforced socially,” Savage said. “As family life gets busier and we do things on the go, there’s isn’t that Sunday dinner where we can enforce those skills.”
Manners, her students learned, aren’t just rules. They’re a way to show respect and, if you do it right, win friends and impress friends’ parents, which makes it easier to get invited over more often.
“One of our goals in this class is to make sure you’re the type of person who is a good friend,” Savage told the class. “Etiquette is all about the rules of life. You already know some of the rules.”
Part of being a good friend is knowing the boundaries when visiting a friend’s house, Savage said. While it’s OK to ask to use the bathroom, properly behaved guests should ask for only one other thing.
“The bed?” asked Aleksey Moody, 9, Jackson’s sister.
“No, you can’t ask where the beds are, even though you might need one,” Savage said.
“Water?” another student shouted from the back.
“Water. That’s right. You can’t ask for anything else,” Savage said, including Kool-Aid or Diet Coke or another favorite drink – because not every household has those beverages.
“I never want to make my host feel uncomfortable about inviting me,” she said. “I never want my hostess to feel like she’s let me down. Manners is all about two things – kindness and respect.”
They’re also about confidence, said Deborah King, who founded Final Touch Finishing School in Seattle in 1989.
“That’s probably one thing that parents are most surprised about, is how this transforms their child’s self-esteem,” King said. “Any time we gain competence in an area, we gain confidence.
“If they can only be exposed to the values to them personally of what it means to be polite and what is means to write a thank you note and what it means to introduce yourself and dress appropriately, their confidence soars.”
Though King now lives in Dallas, her classes are available for children and adults around the world, including more upcoming classes in Snohomish County.
King is currently working with the department of marketing and logistics at the University of North Texas on a study of attitudes toward public behavior.
She believes the continued erosion of manners is hurting American culture, especially among younger people who are struggling to make it through business lunches and interview dinners with a level of decorum.
“It is amazing how this is impacting the workplace and our families. It’s fascinating,” she said. “It’s a workplace crisis. It really is affecting our bottom line in business.”
That’s partly why 32-year-old Kristen Kvamme of Brier sent her kids, Jackson and Aleksey Moody, to etiquette class. She wants them to learn manners at an early age, so they don’t have to learn it later or stumble when they’re adults.
“You’ve got to start now. I think you can never start early enough,” Kvamme said. “It’s a matter of habit. You work on it every single day.”
Jackson is already reaping the benefits of his newfound skills, she said.
“He sees the way people respond to him,” Kvamme said. “He’s learning it’s easier when you’re polite and considerate.”
Both kids were excited to share what they had learned in class.
“We went out to lunch right afterward and they showed me where to put the knife and fork when you’re done eating,” Kvamme said. “They loved it.”
Reporter Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037 or email@example.com.