Saying Thank You Before Opening Gifts

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_A_Little_Coaxing_(1890)I read a passage from The Approaching Storm in September which has taken up residence in my thoughts. It describes a Czech Christmas in 1937.

This was a feudal Christmas. Castle and estate people joined in its celebration, as has always been the custom here. They were all Czech. They came to the tree gorgeously dressed in silk and satin of lovely colors, finely embroidered. The men and boys were as handsomely garbed as the girls and women. There was no servility in these people. I liked their quiet self-assurance.

The celebrations were opened by the children going up to their parents and thanking them for their love and care since last Christmas. The eldest, a son of fifteen, spoke first. He was followed by his brother and sister. This is an annual custom.  […] Then we had the presents.

My first instinct on reading this was to clap my hands together and plan a new custom in our family. Then I paused. This Czech annual custom was rooted in generations of thankful attitudes. Can we turn that around with a simple prelude to opening gifts? No, I debate myself, that is not the way to change a culture. Just another band aid fix.  It’s hard enough to get some of our kiddos to say “thank you” after they’ve opened gifts!

I’ve mulled this over. Thankfulness has to be inculcated in kids from the get go. I’ve seen parents teach thankful habits in tiny tots using Baby Sign Language. Long before they can talk, they sign “Please” and “Thank you”, the cornerstones of good manners.

I’m still pondering, still admiring this custom. Wanting the heart felt version, not the formulaic one. Thoughts, anyone?


Meet and Greet


One endearing custom regularly modeled on Downton Abbey is the gathering of the household outside the door to welcome guests. The family members and servants wait as the cars approach the house and the guests disembark.

The quiet formality marks the moment, punctuates the arrival.

I like these manners, I guess, because they are familiar. I have my own house rule: when a scheduled guest arrives I want to be outside my house, focused on my guest’s arrival. I want my posture to say, “this—THIS—is the highlight of my day!” The risotto may need stirring, but that’s unimportant compared to a direct look, a smile, a welcoming hug or handshake.

I’m not as careful about rising when a guest/older person walks into the room; I didn’t grow up with this point of etiquette. But it’s not too late to cultivate it.


There is a new trend. It is rapidly rising within airport bathrooms. I blush to tell you that many do not flush the toilet.

It is anecdotal evidence, but on Monday—across the country—four out of four toilets needed a cleansing flush before use. Ever the cultural analyst, I’ve been swishing this trend around my head. Why no flush?

1. No time.  Not one second to lose! Onward! She wants the front of the line at the baggage carousel, the prime seat at the gate…to hurry up and wait.

2. Conscientious objector. Some folks oppose the draft. Others oppose the drift of water down the pipes. It is the public expression of this conviction to which I object.

3. Dayists. They believe you should only flush on Thursdays.

4. Phobias. There is a fear of flushing. A fear of centrifugal force. The fear of drought. Fear of sudden loud noises. Fear of tight places. There is a lion in the pipes.

5. Temporary blindness. None is so blind who will not see. Have you ever heard of acute-onset macular degeneration? There is no looking back.

6. Mild dementia. An entire generation of boomers find the sequence of sit-stand-flush-leave confusing. These are the gentle souls who gaze at the mirror wondering why they came to this spot, with a strong suspicion  there is something they forgot. Yes, snowflake, there is.

7. Technical assumptions. Not every potty is a smart potty. Not every smart potty is that smart.

8. Pigishness. Not to put down swine, but some folk are that way.

There is no easy way to arrest this stagnation. If love covers a multitude of sins, then courtesy flushes when others don’t.