Forget the Fork and Be Sensible: Etiquette at Prom
Professional etiquette expert from Orland Park offers her wisdom on proper ways to conduct oneself at prom – and in life.
Bette Schieber believes etiquette is a lot more significant than simple manners.
The Orland Park mother of four trained with the Emily Post Institute to be able to teach people etiquette for all occasions. Her method isn’t as much about which fork to use. Rather, she focuses on how to sensibly interact with other people. With prom being one of the first times many teens will attend a formal event, she created an etiquette seminar geared toward teens for the occasion that she recently held at Carl Sandburg High School.
Schieber sees prom as an opportunity to start learning how teens should interact with people other than their friends. College classes might prepare for career work, but there isn’t exactly an abundance of social interaction classes that put it into practice. And in a struggling economy, Schieber said job candidates who are aware of how their actions affect others are likely to have that much of an edge.
“The idea is to develop a foundation of sincerity,” Schieber said. “Without that, people will see right through you. People need to believe you.”
Schieber described several facets of the seminar to Patch.
Why emphasize etiquette on an occasion like prom?
Prom etiquette is no different than other social events. This particular celebration is not much different then a wedding, or other formal events. A few experiences are inherent in formal occasions. There is the limo. Flowers. Invitations. These are aspects you want to be conscious of. Basically this still covers across-the-board social etiquette.
Any examples of behavior that you covered?
A big aspect we covered that probably goes neglected often was the introduction process. In other words, how to introduce yourself, introduce your date to other people. There’s a difference between talking to fellow teens and talking to adults. Parents are always involved with prom. They meet these parents. So I explained the importance of standing up straight, looking people in the eye when meeting them, being confident and engaging, shaking hands.
One of the more frequent trends parents say is teens talk to them like they talk to each other. It’s a little odd if a teen goes up to a parent and says, “What’s up?” instead of “Hi Mr. So-and-so, how are you?” Teens need to know there’s a difference in how to approach people who are your peers, and those who might later be peers but aren’t right now. That’s very important in the workplace.
Another big aspect is conversation being a give and take. It’s not an ACT test with a bunch of yes or no answers. People need to engage each other. I always introduce my workshop with a basic definition of etiquette. It is not a list of dos and don’ts, though we do cover those. Those can change. You might go to a business dinner or a casual gathering. Your guidelines or manners can change from one situation to another. That is not constant. But underlying a basic foundation of respect and consideration is always useful. If you don’t know what to do, step back and be considerate or respectful. Use a fork, any fork. I don’t care. Just use commons sense.
There also real simple touches to add, such as saying ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘excuse me’ and ‘you’re welcome.’ Manners are still a part of this, since they do tell people what they can expect from us.
The following are other examples of behavior Schieber discussed at her workshop, as described in her words.
The Cell Phone
Texting has its place but not during a formal event. Using the cell phone unnecessarily sends a message that that conversation or text is more important than what is around you.
Traditionally whoever did the asking pays for the tickets. Nowadays groups go to prom, so it’s no longer thought of as social suicide to go without a date. Some schools might adhere to couples, but at Sandburg groups do go. That aside, the real key is to just communicate about all of it. If someone has asked you to prom, open lines of communication. “How are we paying for this?” Don’t assume someone has paid or will pay. You also probably can’t just show up without a ticket bought ahead of time.
Limousines are a grown-up experience, so you need to understand pricing, and especially whether gratuity is included or not. Be on time, wherever the pick up point is. And be aware that most limo companies have very clear guidelines. Pockets and purses will be checked for flasks. They can’t really run a business if they lose their license to drinking teens.
In any talk of eating, it’s worth saying first to chew with your mouth closed. And yes, people still need to be told to do that. Don’t eat off of the buffet. Eat off your plate. Follow the path laid out. People will likely be offering to put food on your plate. And don’t reuse your plate. Take a fresh one if you return.
Things Will Change
A drink might spill. So what? Use common sense in dealing with these things.
Ladies, best to let mom do the pinning. You don’t want to stick your date like a voodoo doll.
For the Boys
Tell her she looks lovely when you arrive. She has been getting ready since 9 a.m. If you really want to add a nice touch, get a couple flowers for her mom. Don’t go overboard with a giant bouquet. Just a couple of flowers that say you are sensible.
Lastly, Have a Grand Time
Enjoy yourselves. Remember that you are guests wherever the prom is held. But have fun. If you’re getting dressed up, be classy too.