La Educación De Mis NietasTuesday, March 22, 2011
Audrey Hepburn plays the shy awkward chaffeur’s daughter in Sabrina and after a stint in Paris not only learns to deftly crack eggs with one hand but becomes lovely, sophisticated and educated. The other Hepburn, Katherine always seemed to play an equally sophisticated and educated young woman. It doesn’t take too much insight into my preference for women of that ilk, like Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint. I like class and sophistication.
When I was around 21 I had an educated and sophisticated girlfriend in Buenos Aires. Her name was Susy. She took me to the opera at the Teatro Colón and expected me to go in a suit. It was in the middle of a Buenos Aires summer and the only suit I owned was a Botany Bay suit I had purchased in a Hart Schaffner & Marx store in Austin, Texas some years before. It was 100% wool and I sweltered at Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel. Some months later we were both riding a suburban train and I was on the window seat on the right hand side of the train. We were both reading a book. Someone showed up who knew Susy and she introduced me to the person. Without putting down the book that I was holding in my left had I crossed under it with my right hand to shake hands. Within a week I had not only been accused of having no manners but I was summarily dumped for a much older violinist of the Teatro Colón orchestra.
In spite of my Argentine Navy short hair cut I did have manners of sorts. My mother had trained me into the art and often would tell me, “Hay tan poca gente fina como nosotros.” This translates to something like, “There is a dearth of sophisticated/well-mannered people like us.”
In fact in Spanish “ser educado” to be educated emphasizes not the level of learning of a person as much as that person’s manners. An ill mannered person would be “mal educado” and a person lacking those niceties would be “le falta educación” or is lacking in manners.
Where possible I learned at home to act like a gentleman and I remember sometime in my teens reading, “A lady is a woman that makes a man feel [and act?] like a gentleman.”
What would my mother’s opinion have been to read as I have about a Washington State girl of 13 (precisely my granddaughter Rebecca’s age) sent a nude self-portrait (taken with a camera phone,or is that a phone camera?) to her new would-be boyfriend? What would she have said when the boy forwarded the picture to a female friend who then “viraled” it with some short but choice texting involving the word slut?
As a little boy if I ever had the audacity to touch any of my food with my hands (and in particular chicken) my father would, with the flick of his wrist, hit me on the top of my head with the flat of his knife. To this day when I eat chicken with my hands I get a terrible itching in my nose!
When I had arrived to Buenos Aires in my most early 20s, I was invited to dine at the house of my godmother and first cousin, Inecita O’Reilly Kuker. She was a widow who had recently married a wealthy widower. She had four children, and he had four. Since most of them were either teenagers or older they had all invited their friends. They all sat at a table as long as some of that regal Masterpiece Theatre kind. We all had finger bowls at our place settings and when I sat down there was absolute silence. Everybody was staring at me. When I picked up my soup spoon (and apparently I did this quite well) the silence was replaced by sighs of relief. It seemed I was “educado”. I had passed muster. By dessert time I was shocked to see how the widower’s (Mr. Kuker) daughters ate their oranges and bananas. They used a fork and knife to peel both fruits and never ever touched either of them.
Of late I have been observing both my granddaughters and in particular when they have soup in our home. Rosemary has purchased these extremely fresh saltines from the Canadian Super Store that are individually wrapped in cellophane. I have watched in horror as both smash the unopened packages with their fists and then empty the contents into the soup. I try to explain that this is rude. I try to explain that the back and forth tasting of soup and crackers is far more interesting and inviting than eating the "menjunje" “or sloppy mixture of their soup bowl. But they don’t listen to me and I suspect that Rebecca does this just to rile me. She even has told me that everybody does this at the White Spot (neither my first cousin Inecita nor this blogger would ever go to such a place!) even their father. Their mother, Hilary (my daughter) has added that a stress in the importance of manners is in decline.
I hope it is all a phase and that my mother will, from wherever she is now, utter, “Hay tan poca gente fina como nosotros,” including both my granddaughters in her rarified list.