Truly it has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Children learn about Perfect Propriety from many other people besides their parents: teachers, neighbors, friends, and other family members. Etiquetteer recently had cause to contemplate this idea with the death of his Lovely Aunt Joan. Because while Etiquetteer promotes Perfect Propriety, Etiquetteer was not born Perfectly Proper.
Lovely Aunt Joan once took an opportunity to teach Young Etiquetteer a gentle lesson in Paying a Compliment. As in many families, children’s clothes are passed from one child to another, and Lovely Aunt Joan’s daughter, Little Cousin, was just the right age to receive things from Etiquetteer’s Little Sister. During one large family gathering, Young Etiquetteer artlessly paid a compliment by saying “Cousin, don’t you look lovely in Little Sister’s old dress!” “No,” interrupted Lovely Aunt Joan, who was sitting with us. “The best thing to say is ‘Don’t you look lovely in your new dress!’ That’s nicer.” And she said it nicely, without making Young Etiquetteer feel unwholesomely small.
The point, of course, is that it’s unkind to underscore the perception of charity in public. (Indeed, one thinks of Meg March in Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” dressed up in another girl’s ball dress at a house party.)
You see how the Innocence of Childhood needs to be refined to become Perfect Propriety. Thank you, Lovely Aunt Joan, for your Gentle Correction, and so much else.