Fox Chapel etiquette consultant Bridget Weedn says everyone could use more polishing, and threatens her big bouncing boxer dog, Bevo, with doggie-manners school when he leaps cheerfully at guests. She works with children and teens, and helps businesspeople navigate manners and protocols the world over.
What makes a parent call you?
Most of the calls I get are very similar: a desperate cry. "We were just out to dinner with our neighbors, the grandparents, and I was totally embarrassed." Typically that's why they call me.
With five sons ranging in age from third grade to college, you must have your hands full. Are they poster children for good manners?
It's a herd, it's a basketball team. My children are pretty well behaved. I'm always on them -- that's what it takes. They're my walking advertisements. I started thinking about this whole idea when the kids were in a Montessori school. It came to me that even though they're boys, it doesn't matter. You look someone in the eye and show that you're interested in talking to them.
What influenced your own manners growing up?
I'm from the South, from Texas. I don't know if you can hear an accent -- probably not much. I lived in Houston, around a lot of Southern-speaking people. The language is not spoken that way but Mother spoke that way so that's how I spoke. I would even correct my friends as a teen-ager.
You always wrote thank-you notes, you always looked someone in the eye. I went to a dinner party as a young adult and an older gentleman came in. The host was introducing him, and I stood up. I was the only one who did that. He almost had tears in his eyes. It was habit. Mother made us stand up straight. Mother had me walking across the room with a book on my head.
What are some interesting international protocols to be aware of?
If you refuse vodka in Russia, it's really an insult. If you travel the redeye and get there at 11 a.m., you have to find a way, just sip, just get your lips wet. Don't refuse the kindness. In Spain, in the Basque countries, they offered me turtles' feet. They were just so thrilled, they were so excited about offering me these turtles' feet.
Yum! How were they?
It's a claw! You suck the meat out of the ankle part. I was very reluctant but you have to at least try it. It was very salty, not something I'd go back and try again.
Is chivalry dead? Should it be?
I believe in chivalry. I believe a man should pull a chair out for a lady. A gentleman should open a door, and girls should expect it, that's the key. When that happens, what are they trying to convey? I think growing up, not expecting a male to do that, the tides have turned. We still have our place and they still have theirs. We've gotten to a point where we've all tried to be equal. We've forgotten. What's it all about, anyway?
You've been in Pittsburgh for eight years now. How does the city stack up, manners-wise?
Poorly. First day of school, my son's going through the lunch line. The lady said, "Do you want French fries?" He said, "Yes, ma'am." She got the whole room to come over and look at him, put him on a pedestal because he said "ma'am."
When someone fails to send you a thank-you note, what happens?
You have this party list, and that list can go down. I feel it's very necessary to show people appreciation for their trouble. I would notice, let's put it that way.
What's the worst offense these days?
The No. 1 thing is cell-phone etiquette. It's total disregard for the person behind the cash register. It's the No. 1 thing that needs to be addressed. I want to talk to the mayor about posting more signs that say, "I'll be happy to wait on you when you finish your cell-phone conversation." I was a in a funeral where someone's cell phone went off! We all mess up, but ...
There seems to be no shortage of examples of bad behavior among celebrities. Is there anyone out there who's a particularly good example?
Troy Polamalu -- isn't he wonderful? He's this tough guy on the football field and he grows orchids! He shows respect to his religion, he talks about his wife. He's a caring person. Or, sometimes you see a baseball player starting a game with respect to God or whatever, something to show they aren't just thinking of themselves. I point out to my children when someone does something good.