Missed Manners

I have never been the world's biggest fan of children, even when I was one. In junior high, I cringed every time a kid addressed a teacher as "Hey, miss!" And when I completed my first and only baby-sitting job, I was exhausted from chasing a naked 6-year-old boy around his house with a pair of shorts he refused to put on. Based on this and other extensive research, I came to this conclusion: Kids are jerks. But they're also like monkeys. They can be taught.

While most children spring from the womb intent on causing the maximum amount of destruction in all situations, hell-bent on pleasing the Dark Lord Satan, others just need a push in the right, polite direction. This is where former beauty queen Marsha Horne steps in. The founder of the Etiquette School of Frisco, she takes in babbling, squawking children and molds them into respectful, inquisitive miniature adults. Temporarily, at least.

Horne has just herded a class of elementary-aged children out of her impeccably clean, classically decorated home. She sits, straight-backed, wearing a pretty green frock, with her blond hair pulled into a demure ponytail. Horne exudes perfection, from her feet all the way to her nose, which would, I think, do well to start its own school: The Perky Sloping School of Nasality.

Glass figurines, vases, delicately upholstered furniture and other potential causes of child-engineered living nightmares are everywhere. Even I feel awkward; I drink out of commemorative Dallas Stars plastic cups at home because I can't be trusted with anything else.

"It is crucial to teach out of an elegant home," Horne says, gesturing across her stately library, where dark wood cabinets and tables make the room itself look, somehow, intelligent. She fears no wild, rambunctious children throwing her precious belongings willy-nilly. She has a secret: She's not "Mom."

"Children need a different voice," she explains, somebody other than that frazzled woman running around in a bathrobe, waving a broom and a Slim-Fast. When parents call her, Horne says, they often come with the same complaint: "My child just will not listen at dinner time." And so they pay Horne $200 or $300 for a week of lessons, leaving their child's social education in the qualified hands of the headmistress of the Etiquette School of Frisco.

Frisco is, as we all know, a government test site for future settlements on Mars. What other reason would people have to build strip malls and luxury tract homes (somehow, that phrase is no longer an oxymoron) in the middle of nowhere? And then there's Pizza Hut Park, the athletics complex made for playing soccer. In a football-obsessed state in a football-obsessed country. We're going to have to learn some futbol if we're going to be concentrated on a few square miles of the Red Planet with the rest of the world's survivors.

I digress. We're not talking about the impending destruction of our planet, we're talking about manners, though those two things are probably more closely related than we think.

At the beginning of her elementary-aged class, where seven kids in the first, second and third grades have come one hot afternoon to learn proper table manners, Horne introduces me as "Miss Grimes from the newspaper," and two big-eyed blond girls launch into me with facts about their dad. "You have probably met our dad," they say, both yammering out a blurb of a name I can't understand. "We're his children!" They beam and beam. Horne told me she frequently teaches the kids of famous athletes, so I'm wondering whose holy children these could be.

Turns out—Horne asked me not to use her students' names—the adorable white-haired girls belongs to a prominent municipal employee of Frisco. So there go my dreams of taking down Mike Modano's sham marriage to Willa Ford by showing up with two adorable love children on his doorstep.

Horne serves peas and salad on a table set with little ceramic high-heel shoe figurines and tiny wooden corsets. It's girlie day, and though the two boys in the class anxiously await tomorrow's sports theme ("Balls are for boys!" Horne will later tell them) they all behave, well, creepily like adults. Horne uses real china and glass goblets, and nobody breaks anything as they scoot peas and lettuce around on their plates like tiny pros.

Then, the little girl to Horne's right, who breathlessly tells me she's been in a Barney movie, holds her fork incorrectly. "Hold it at the tippy-end!" Horne chimes, moving the girl's tiny fingers back on the utensil. By the end of the lesson, everyone's thought of a polite question to ask their neighbors at dinner, with "What's your favorite color?" being a particular favorite. Soon, they're dismissed to waiting parents in minivans and SUVs.

Horne doesn't just teach out of her home, and she doesn't just teach kids, though she has a "Dating and Dining for High School" class that I think would benefit most of the supposedly grown-up guys I've dated in Dallas. Horne also teaches business etiquette for those people who need to know how to shake hands in six languages. Professionals traveling to Asia are particular clients of hers; there, you have to make a big deal out of introductions. The right manners can make or break a business meeting. But grownups are boring and less cute than kids when they're blatantly rude. So I join Horne on another day for a lesson at the Boys and Girls Club of McKinney.

She's teaching six sixth- and seventh-graders how to do proper introductions. You say the girl's name first, and you never introduce a younger person to an older person without saying the older person's name first. Unless you're introducing someone to a VIP, who always goes first.

"What's a VIP?" Horne asks a kid named Christopher, who is wearing a red basketball uniform. He stares blankly at her. She suggests the president. Isn't George W. Bush a VIP? Christopher continues to stare. "What's your favorite basketball star?" she asks. Immediately, he pops in with "Steve Nash!" Today, at the Boys and Girls Club of McKinney, Steve Nash is a VIP and Dubya is some dude.

When we get to the interesting-fact portion of the introduction lesson, in which the host shares cute tidbits about the introductees while they shake hands, I start taking better notes. This is good stuff to know. Most of the introductions I make happen something like this:

Me: "Lauren, this is Brian."

Lauren: "I am so drunk."

Me: "Sweet. Let's do shots."

Now, thanks to Marsha Horne, I can do better.

Me: "Lauren, this is Brian. Brian, this is Lauren."

Lauren: "I am so drunk."

Me: "Brian, Lauren likes to get hammered. So do you. That's something you have in common! Let's talk about it while we polish off this bottle of tequila."

That's manners, people. And I intend to continue to share these nuggets of information with my peers, who are, like me, simply larger versions of the judgmental munchkins people continue to insist upon bringing into this world. After all, someday we're all going to be crammed in an outer space colony together, and I'll be damned if I won't know how to shake a Japanese businessman's hand and eat a salad without offending our Martian hosts.

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Andrea Grimes
Contact: Andrea Grimes

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