Social Rituals & Ceremonies

Social networks are important for us all. In order to be able to navigate through our world of associates, employers, friends, vendors and partners, we must be seen as trustworthy and predictable. For the upper classes, country clubs serve as a place to socialize, blending business and recreational contacts. People get a sense of what it would be like to work with us or even to invite us into their private circles. Although violating a protocol may not be mentioned at the time, it will be noticed and treated as an indication that perhaps the fit isn’t there. When it comes to social “graces,” it is preferable to err on the side of formality.

PAYING ATTENTION – Being face to face with someone is the ultimate proving ground – the way to build trust. And this routine can be rehearsed and learned. Good eye contact and listening can show confidence and grounding. Looking away, or down, can indicate discomfort or even deception. For people socializing with a class above their own, this can be intimidating. There is much that is unfamiliar.

TENDING OTHERS – Making others feel at ease is the essence of etiquette. So much of our social dialogue evolves around caring for others. “How are you? How is your mom? I noticed this about you. What are your plans? Did you enjoy ….?” This all takes practice, especially if we are in a setting that is foreign to us and we feel intimidated and vulnerable. Part of succeeding is ACTING the role.

INTRODUCTIONS – Being able to handle introductions, a subset of tending others, is another learned script and choreography. Upper class people, who are very practiced in the protocol of social settings, learn early and use the process often. “Let me introduce ….” And it begins. The gestures, the eye contact back and forth, the comments are short and complimentary. Facilitating the handshake and hearing from the other. The sequence. And, finally, finessing into a conversation that all can feel connected to. The introducer has served everyone well, showing confidence and grace. For those who grew up in environments where there is less formality, this process can be intimidating – and serve as an indication that someone is from another class.

FOOD & DRINK PROTOCOL – Landmines abound for the uninitiated. How to eat – in conversation? It can’t look like it is all about the food. Or that we are ravenous. Or that we think we can talk with food in our mouths. People notice each violation. An oft-heard criticism is “It’s like she was raised in a barn.” The implication is that people who have not learned the social graces (through no fault of their own) are uncivilized – and therefore to be avoided.

With each evolution of civilization human beings reach new heights. And with each evolution there are people who don’t have the privilege of participating. For example, school uniforms were instituted to reduce the impact of class/status in learning environments to avoid exclusion. Perhaps we should make sure all kids learn basic social protocols as well. Learning how to take part in our society may be as essential as learning to read.

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