Undaunted by the unenviable task of teaching manners to the masses, etiquette consultant Heather Rogero hopes to put the civil back into civilization, a few children and a few classes at a time.
In January Ms. Rogero plans to open the Martha's Vineyard School of Etiquette, offering two sessions of a five-week program in etiquette and manners to young ladies and gentlemen at the Mansion House. The winter 2008 sessions will include Classy Little Ladies for girls 5 to 9 and 10 to 14, and Manners for Young Gentlemen for boys ages 7 to 14.
"I want to instill not only etiquette but the confidence it brings," said Ms. Rogero. "Knowing how to respond in a social situation makes people feel comfortable and increases their self-esteem."
Contrary to what many people think, she added, etiquette is much more than good table manners. Both the girls' and boys' programs will include telephone manners, making introductions, the art of conversation, being a great guest and host, and writing thank-you notes - the handwritten kind, not e-mails.
Mannerless on Martha's Vineyard
When asked politely for their opinions, several Vineyarders the Times caught up with around Vineyard Haven, graciously shared their views on which lapses of manners bother them most:
"People who don't give their last names when introducing themselves." Mev Good, Tisbury
"When you ask someone about something and say 'Thank you,' instead of responding, 'You're welcome,' they say, 'No problem.' It's an inappropriate response - there wasn't a problem in the first place." Frank Rapoza, West Tisbury
"People who are unwilling to say, 'I'm sorry.'" John Kelleher, West Tisbury
"Kids who don't say thank you, unless their parents say it first." Anita, Oak Bluffs
"Someone calls you and asks, who's this?" Ted Desrosiers, Vineyard Haven
"People who eat while they're talking to me on the phone." Suzanne Kennedy, Tisbury
"Technology precedes etiquette - first came cell phones, and then etiquette developed to deal with them - I'm waiting to see what happens." Leslie Pearlson, Vineyard Haven
"People who talk on cell phones while placing an order." Grace Clark, Mocha Mott's, Vineyard Haven
"Cell phones are my major peeve. Most calls are not necessary, and people talk too loudly." Susan Amazeen, Oak Bluffs
"I can't stand listening to people using cell phones in public places." Rodney Silvia, Oak Bluffs
"In the summer, no one will let you make a turn from Look Street or at Five Corners." Gail Burke, Tisbury
"Drivers who don't use their directionals when they're going to make a turn." Ted Amaral, N. Falmouth
"Reckless drivers who are overly aggressive, make hand gestures at you, and then drive away." Caleb Carr, West Tisbury
"The lack of common courtesy extended on the roads off-Island - we're used to a certain level of courtesy on the Island." Michael Morrison, Reveal Homes, Oak Bluffs
"People coughing at you without covering their mouths, kids that push older people out of the way, and customers who yell at us when we don't have what they're looking for." Karen Murphy, Mardell's Gifts & Jewelry, Vineyard Haven
"On Monday nights at Offshore Ale, people forget to tip on the whole amount of their bill, instead of on the discounted two-for-one total." Name held by request
"I'm a pretty tolerant guy. People can do anything they want - a lack of manners doesn't bother me. Big issues like the war in Iraq are what bothers me." John Wilbur, Vineyard Haven
At a time when jeans are the uniform of the day, Ms. Rogero's promotional brochure notes that in her classes, "Students are taught the difference between being well dressed and just being dressed." While girls will lean about skin and hair care, style secrets, fitness and nutrition, boys will learn how to tie a necktie, match clothes, and look their best.
The girls' program concludes with a mother/daughter afternoon tea, while the boys put their new manners to the test at a five-course dinner at the Mansion House. One of their classes even includes the subject of tipping.
Lest this sound boring, Ms. Rogero assures that the electronically-oriented younger generation will find that her classes have plenty of visually interesting material, hands-on activities, and clever tips for remembering the details of fine dining.
To figure out the elements of a table setting, for example, Ms. Rogero tells her classes to think of BMW - the Bread plate at left, the Meal in the middle, and the Water glass at right. Confused about where eating utensils go? Just remember the words "fork" and "left" have four letters in them, so they go together, and "spoon" and "knife" have five letters, so they go on the right.
Ms. Rogero's path towards Emily Post-dom began when she saw an ad in a magazine about training to teach etiquette and manners. Although it caught her attention, she forgot about it until several months later when she was going to throw the magazine away and happened to notice the ad again. After researching different avenues for training and certification, Ms. Rogero said she found the programs ranged in cost up to $8,000 for the licensing and curriculum.
As a result of her research, last summer she trained with Maria Everding, president and founder of the Etiquette Institute in St. Louis, an international organization that promotes itself as "blending the standards of traditional etiquette with contemporary manners." As a graduate of the Etiquette Institute, Ms. Rogero is a certified etiquette consultant, joining the white-gloved ranks of more than 150 who teach Ms. Everding's business and social etiquette programs throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Europe.
In addition, Ms. Rogero is an ordained minister with an M.A. in biblical literature, with 15 years of experience in youth ministry. She has also traveled and taught seminars to women and teenage girls about self-esteem. She and her husband Walter are pastors at the Vineyard Assembly of God, across from the Scottish Bakehouse on State Road in Tisbury.
They moved to the Vineyard about three years ago from Tulsa, Okla., with their daughters Anna, who attends kindergarten at Tisbury School, and Mary Beth, who will start kindergarten next year. When asked about social differences between Oklahoma and the Vineyard, Ms. Rogero said people here are slower to start up a conversation. The Island definitely is more casual, she added.
Ms. Rogero said she regards her new career as a manners maven as "a way to give to the community, train my own girls, and really make a difference." Although her parents were divorced and her mom did the best she could on the manners front, Ms. Rogero said it was her grandmother who taught her the most.
Etiquette questions for today
As mores change in today's society, new etiquette questions arise to challenge modern manners experts. Here are a few not yet found in the books:
Should a woman wear a pearl nose stud only after 5 pm?
When a man dons a suit, in keeping with his more formal attire, should he wear his baseball cap with the brim facing forward?
Should the color of a person's flip-flops match the color of the clothes he or she is wearing?
Are there any Island events at which wearing a plaid flannel shirt is not appropriate?
Is the question, "You don't live here year-round, do you?" a socially acceptable conversation starter?
If an Islander is called at home on the night of annual town meeting and begged to attend so there will be a quorum, can he or she come dressed in pajamas, robe, and slippers?
Should a call waiting signal be ignored during a phone call only when talking to one's mother?
Does talking loudly on a cell phone while onboard a ferry entitle everyone within earshot to offer comments or advice?
Should extending the courtesy of yielding to another car at Five Corners be based on what state it is from?
If your neighbors install a 500-foot wind turbine tower, would it be un-neighborly to ask them not to string it with Christmas lights?
"I really believe it helps children in society if they have manners," she said. "Having manners sets them apart, and opens more doors of opportunity. In the business world, those coming right out of college can fall flat if they don't have that training. Business etiquette is an entire subject unto itself."
Future possibilities for expanding her program might include private parties, Ms. Rogero said. Several women also have told her they would be interested in taking a ladies' class. Sensitive to nuances, she said she would probably call such a class "a refresher course."
Ms. Rogero warmed to the idea of offering a remedial course for husbands. Perhaps that would make a nice pre-Valentine's gift from their wives, she suggested. Her angle definitely has potential - what woman wouldn't want to celebrate Valentine's Day with a man who completed classes such as those in the boy's program, entitled, "A gentleman looks his best," A gentleman says the right thing," and "A gentleman goes to dinner"?
Although she planned to start children's classes in September, Ms. Rogero found that soccer practice and games presented scheduling conflicts, so she decided to offer winter classes instead. Her two sessions will run from Jan. 1-Feb. 9, and March 3-29, 2008. Classes will be held at the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven on Mondays from 3:15-4:15 pm (girls 5-9), 4:30-5:30 pm (girls 10-14), and 5:45-6:30 pm (boys 7-14). Students do not have to dress up and can wear their school clothes, although Ms. Rogero said she would hope that students might dress up a little more for tea or dinner.
The girls' classes are limited to 15 students. The boys' classes are 45 minutes and limited to 10 students, to compensate for the difference in attention spans and energy levels, as Ms. Rogero diplomatically explained. Total tuition per student is $155, with a sibling discount of $25 if two are enrolled at the same time.
For more information, visit the web site mvschoolofetiquette.com or call 508-693-5903. (If leaving a message, don't forget to speak clearly and politely, and say please and thank you.)