“Mum!!  Look at me!  I’m eating with good manners!” remarked my daughter with glee.  “Please, show me again how my friends use their cutlery!”

This joyous outburst has been repeated several times since my daughter attended a Girl Scout event.  It was Badge Day for the Mountainside Girl Scouts in mid November and the Daisies, Brownies and Juniors all showed up to earn a petal or a badge.  This is an annual event where the focus is on the different troop levels mixing, sharing and learning together.  After a few hours the girls emerge jubilant –clutching some creation.  The troop leaders follow, wide-eyed and twitching, empty coffee mugs clutched in hand.

However, this was not the case for the 3rd and 4th graders this year, for they had been enrolled for a morning of instruction on good table manners, etiquette and hosting protocols. The magnificent Maria Joyce of The Protocol School of New Jersey ran the event with amazing skill and excellence.  The troop leaders were there to assist and wait on the tables.

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The excitement started when each girl received a beautiful invitation through the mail requesting their presence on Badge Day in formal attire.  While the other girls showed up in everyday clothes, our troops stood out in their beautiful party dresses.  Ms Joyce met the girls at the doorway with a lovely smile and firm instructions on how they were to enter the room as well-mannered young ladies.  Our exuberant, boisterous and enthusiastic girls were instantly transformed into quiet, well-behaved people.

 Ms Joyce directed the girls on how to seat themselves correctly at the tables, and the magic continued as she sprinkled nuggets of information, fascinating stories and anecdotes from history, from her life story and from other well-known people.  Not only were the girls educated and entertained, but the troop leaders were also spellbound by this gracious, intelligent and personable lady.

The girls learned to introduce themselves politely, how to stand and sit, how to converse politely and make a good first impression.  They had been pleasantly surprised to find they would be served a continental breakfast during the morning, and they were sitting at beautifully prepared tables. 

The girls were eagerly awaiting their food and there were smiles of pleasure when the troop leaders started to serve the fruit salad.  Many girls picked up their forks, ready to stab a tempting piece of fruit to eat.  But NO!!  These smiles turned to looks of dismay and exclamations of horror as Ms Joyce instructed the girls to hold and use their cutlery in the continental fashion – apart from one girl – my daughter.  Although my daughter has spent most of her life in America, she has learned to use a knife and fork from her very English mother!  She stared in amusement as her American friends struggled to hold the cutlery correctly, let alone cut up the fruit as directed.  I was fascinated too, as I hadn’t realized quite how different our habits were.

Ms Joyce must have observed this scene many times, and I am sure that it never fails to make people realize just how varied tables manners are around the world.  Thankfully the girls had an easier time, buttering bite size pieces of muffin and eating them.

Apart from the pleasure of letting someone else run a Girl Scout meeting, and apart from the sheer blissful heaven of seeing our beloved girls sitting still, not interrupting and obeying, there was one outstandingly moment for me. 

The girls were all standing by their chairs and Ms Joyce cheerfully told them to sit down on their fannies as she had taught them.   WHAT??  Did I really hear that?  I very audibly gasped in horror and slapped my hand over my mouth.  Then I remembered – fanny has a different meaning in America.  Ms Joyce had told the girls to sit down on their bottoms. Perhaps I will leave you to look up the British definition!

I do hope that we can invite Ms Joyce to instruct more of our troops – she did a fantastic job.

Maria Joyce is the founder and Managing Director of The Protocol School of New Jersey.