What etiquette really means

What comes to mind when you think of the word etiquette? Using the correct fork when you eat a five course meal? Etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, Jacqueline Whitmore says it’s so much more than that. Really, it’s about making other people feel good. I chatted with Jacqueline about what drew her to the field what etiquette really means to her.

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Caitlin: So, Jacqueline, tell me how you became interested in etiquette?

Jacqueline: Well, I’m the founder and director of the Protocol School of Palm Beach and I’ve had my own company since 1998.

Prior to starting my own company, I worked at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach as their Assistant Director of Public Relations. As part of my job responsibilities, I put together etiquette camps for kids every summer. So, my job was to hire the instructor and to organize the camps. In my search for an instructor, I found someone I liked and admired and she came down every summer (to teach the kids’ camp).

She also expanded it and introduced an etiquette camp for adults. I took the class and I liked it so much that I took another class and then she encouraged me to go to Washington, D.C. and get a certification, which I did. So, I ended up teaching the staff (at the Breakers Hotel) in my spare time.

That gave me good experience because in 1998 I didn’t know I was going to get laid off, but I did. And that was the time that I started the Protocol School of Palm Beach.

Caitlin: Wow, so I imagine getting laid off was devastating, but that really opened up an opportunity for you.

Jacquline: Yes, it forced me to take a leap and start my own business.

Caitlin: That’s great. You know, I think sometimes when people think of etiquette, it maybe seems stuffy and maybe shallow. People think it’s just about saying please and thank you. What does etiquette really mean to you?

Jacqueline: Etiquette, to me, means having respect for other people. But, also, it means having respect for yourself. And, it also means being mindful of how your behavior affects other people.

So, for example, if you’re on a bus on your cell phone and you’re bothering the person next to you, you’re not practicing good etiquette. So, it’s just being mindful of your surroundings and having respect for other people. In other words, it’s doing unto others as you would have done to you.

Caitlin: I like that. You know, I was thinking when I first emailed you, I was really cognizant of being polite and using the right etiquette. I wonder if people feel that way around you often. Do you hear that a lot? That people are watching their manners around you?

Jacqueline: Oh, all the time. I hear that all the time. I do often hear from people, “Oh I better sit up straight,” or “I better not say certain things,” or “I better not use the wrong fork.” And, that’s not really what etiquette is about at all. If anything, it’s about being your best self. It’s not being somebody who is artificial and putting on airs or acting like you’re better than anybody. It’s just being your very best self on your best day.

Think about your best day. What would you wear? What would you say? Who would you surround yourself with? That’s the way I try to live my life, at my very best. It’s not always easy. It takes a lot of practice.

If I said you need to be better than everybody else, that would repel people. That would turn people off. In fact, you know, everyone says, “Oh, I’m a perfectionist.” Well, perfectionism repels people. It’s the flaws we all have that make us relatable and memorable and likeable. I call it the BLT Factor: believable, likeable, and trustworthy. So, if I told you I never make mistakes, you would probably hate me and you wouldn’t believe me . (laughs)

Caitlin: Would you be willing to share one of your more memorable etiquette mistakes?

Jacqueline: Oh, sure, I make them all the time! I am my own best client.

I was in China last year at a dinner party. I don’t speak any Chinese and the waiter came up and handed me a menu and asked me what wine I wanted. The menu was huge and couldn’t read it. I just said, “I’d like a glass of white wine.” And he said, “Well, what kind?” And I didn’t know. So I said, “Well, how about a glass of Australian wine?” And my host leaned over and said, “Well, how about a glass of Chinese wine?” (laughs)

So, I felt embarrassed by that!

Caitlin: Are there any etiquette tips that you feel are especially important?

Jacqueline: I am a big advocate of handwritten notes and I try to write one every day, whether it’s a thank you note, a birthday card, or a congratulatory card, just to keep in touch with people. It’s a lost art.

Caitlin: That’s great and it really is so nice getting something personal in the mail. You know, I really like your approach to etiquette, that it’s really just about making the people around you feel good and feel comfortable. And I think, as a result, it makes you feel better about yourself, too.

Jacqueline: Oh yeah, it’s good karma. What you put out in the universe, you get back.

If you get in the habit of doing little niceties every single day, it becomes automatic. And it doesn’t feel artificial because it becomes part of you. And it makes you feel really good.

I believe if you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice to you. I used to be a flight attendant and we used to encounter so many nasty passengers. And it was the ones who were really nice who always got the upgrades.

You can read more from Jacqueline on her blog. In the meantime, tell me, do you have a time when you felt embarrassed by using bad etiquette? Is there an etiquette rule you think is especially important? Let’s talk!

Image courtesy Jacqueline

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