Mind Your Manners

By Linda Pescatore

March 6, 2009 5 min read


Prom-time etiquette is crucial for no hurt feelings

Linda Pescatore

Creators News Service

Junior and senior proms are among the most highly anticipated events of high school. Yet some situations can become a manners minefield. Watch your step, or you could wind up stomping on someone's heart or even blowing a lifelong friendship to smithereens.

You certainly wouldn't do it intentionally, but sometimes you can't avoid sticky situations -- like when Mr. Terrific calls mere minutes after you agreed to go with Mr. Nobody Special. Is there any way to avoid dating drama?

"It does go with the territory," said Cindy Post Senning, great-granddaughter of America's first manners maven, Emily Post, and director of The Emily Post Institute. Senning co-wrote "Teen Manners: From Malls to Meals to Messaging and Beyond" ($16, HarperCollins) and is readying a book on teen parties, due out next year. "All of the issues have existed around dating since time immemorial."

While having too many offers may seem an enviable position to be in, it means that somebody has to be declined, and it's not easy to let someone down -- especially someone who evidently likes you. Unfortunately, when guys are turned down, they usually ask why. While you don't have to give a reason, Senning advised not to let your desire to spare his feelings lead you to make up stories.

"You can just say, 'It's very thoughtful of you to invite me, but I have to say no,'" Senning said. "It's always your prerogative to say no; you need to think about how to say no in terms of what your options are later. If I tell one person I'm going to be out of town and then somebody else calls and I end up going, that's not right."

You may worry that by turning down Mr. Terrific, you'll ruin your chances with him. Don't. "He might be disappointed that you can't go together -- we hope he will be!" Senning said. "But I know he's going to think better of you."

Just let him know you look forward to a dance with him (and be sure to still spend sufficient time with the guy who brought you) or maybe even make plans for a future date.

There is one way to avoid being asked by the wrong guy while you wait for the right one: Ask him yourself. Granted, this approach is not for every girl. It's a lot easier if you two already have an easy rapport.

"Keep it casual and get right to the subject," wrote Nancy Krulik in "Prom! A Complete Guide to a Truly Spectacular Night" ($8, Grosset & Dunlap). "Say something like, 'Hey, do you have a date for the prom yet? I thought maybe you and I could go together.'"

Be ready, though, for the unthinkable to happen: He could say no -- it's his prerogative as much as it is yours. Try not to take it personally, be cool about it, and get away from the situation if you can, before you find yourself crying or, worse, asking why. And don't let it stop you from going with someone else, even if it's with a bunch of single friends, advised Krulik.

And for the lucky girls who dodged these dilemmas because you have a steady boyfriend, more etiquette issues lurk if you're attending a formal dinner. Don't wait until you're seated in front of seemingly dozens of utensils and plates before you learn what they're for. Typically, the table is set so you pick up the utensils from the outside in. And you can use this trick to prevent sipping from the wrong glass: Facing your place setting, hold your hands straight out, palms inward. Now touch each index finger to the thumb, sort of like an "OK" symbol. Notice how your hands look like the letters "b" and "d"? They stand for "bread" on the left and "drink" on the right.

Manners, of course, are about more than using the proper fork. They're really about forming and strengthening relationships, Senning said. When in doubt about an established manner or when there is no manner established, Senning said, you can always figure out what to do by applying three fundamental principles: respect, consideration and honesty.

"If you just base whatever you do on those principles, and you do whatever's respectful or considerate and definitely what's honest and sincere, you're probably going to be fine," she said.

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