Bluffton Historical Preservation Society teaches a little civility

October 25, 2010 

If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that some people have no couth.

Whether it's the adults who have magically forgotten the existence of the words "please" and "thank you," or the kids who think The Golden Rule is some sort of new game for the Wii, mastering proper manners has become something of a lost art across the nation.

But rest assured, not all hope is lost in Bluffton.

At the Magical Manners class at the Colcock-Teel House in old town, 5- and 6-year-olds are learning the basics: how to introduce themselves, how to act at the dinner table and how to answer the phone.

The class -- part of the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society's Lost Art Series -- is taught by Lin Laffitte, a very patient woman for whom etiquette is more than just a way of life. It's in her blood.

Laffitte grew up in a large Southern family that believed in the importance of eating three meals a day together and having good manners above all else. She and her husband passed on those values to their own three children.

"My children love to have friends over. At one point there were eight teenagers in our home, and we were using cloth napkins, and they said they never do that at home," she said. "I love to entertain, set a table and throw a cocktail party. I love the beauty in the ritual of it and I think the world is yearning for that civility."

Before Laffitte started the local manners class, she attended The Etiquette and Leadership Institute in Georgia.

"The women at the institute teach from a place of love and kindness," she said. "It is like the Golden Rule. Think about other people, put others' needs ahead of your own and show respect, no matter the age."

To that end, Laffitte drives from Estill each week to teach Bluffton's youngest things like how to give a proper introduction and what goes into a good handshake. She manages to keep a steady flow of love and kindness as the children attempt to barrel in the room at the beginning of class.

"I grew up in a different age and time. We just knew manners because they were understood and expected then," she said. "It is different now, but these children are wonderful and eager to learn. We developed this (class) especially for the young children and they get it -- they soak it up and have fun."

Classes begin when each student greets Laffitte with a firm handshake and eye contact. The children then recite a rhyme about the proper placement of plates and utensils on the table -- to the beat of "Hey, Diddle Diddle." They place napkins in their laps and learn how to politely refuse the foods they don't enjoy.

The children are happy and even eager to wash their hands during class, but there's plenty of talking out of turn and giggling -- they are 5 and 6 years old, after all.

Jennifer Banks said she signed up her son, Benjamin, for the class so he could brush up on what he'd already been taught at home.

"I thought he needed to improve his manners a little bit and get ready for the big time," she said. "He is very good about polite greetings and thank yous now. The basics are important skills to have and if he keeps doing that, it is great."

Zachary Richards' mom, Maureen, said she thinks the most important thing her son has learned is "how not to interrupt when people are talking."

Meanwhile, Davis Rose's mother thought he'd enjoy being in the class with his friends.

"I love that he is helping me set the table at home," Paige Rose said. "He is watching my manners now and holding me accountable."

Laffitte aims to make the lessons fun so that the children easily retain what they learned in class.

For a majority of the children, the most exciting part of the lesson is when they get bubblegum eyeballs upon departure. The eyeballs remind them to look people in the eye during introductions.

"I like learning manners and looking people in the eye," student Adelaide Shirley said.

For parents who want to teach their children better manners, Laffitte recommends heading to the local bookstore.

"There are many great books out there to help parents with etiquette and make it fun."

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