So etiquette, it is more then a word, it's a way of life... it is the reason for everything. Everything a true southern does is based on this one, nine letter, word. What most northerners, unfortunately southerners too (we call those transplanted), don't understand is that etiquette is more then just a thank you card, or chewing with your mouth closed, it's a mantra for how to live your life. It's what makes life in the south so gentle and almost magical! Here are some basics for proper etiquette in every day life.
Etiquette demands that you treat everyone, even those in a lower class, education level, etc with warmth and respect. (Now yes this often does involve lying, which you will see is a secret mantra within the south, never say a mean word about someone, to their face~... many of you will remember a famous line from Steele Magnolias, If you don't have anything nice to say, come and sit by me~!)
You must always dress for the occasion, often times this means dressing nicer then you planned... we don't dress for what we think we can get away with, we dress for how we want to be perceived. And as I've found out up here it is often looked upon as silly, but a southern woman never leaves the house without her earrings and favorite item of makeup on her face... for me this is mascara and I was running the 10 mile Cherry Blossom run and I had on my earrings and mascara... it's what we do!
You must always respond to invitations in a timely manner and arrive ON TIME. You never want anyone to be waiting on you, unless it's a man. It is simply tacky to hold up a dinner party, meeting, or anything else... you are telling everyone else that their time doesn't matter. Go by this simple thought... if you're early, you're on time; if you're on time, you're late; if you're late, don't show up and have an AMAZING excuse (amazing means, death, hospitalization, car crash, etc... not that you forgot, or you were over booked, or you simply got held up. If your excuse is one of the latter then you should have called ahead so no one was waiting on you or expecting you!)
Whenever you are given a gift you accept it with the utmost humility... gifts include compliments... you never contradict a compliment because that is a slap in the face to the giver and you always send a thank you note for material gifts, dinner parties, etc. I know for many of you compliments are hard to take, but if you always tell the giver they are wrong, soon you'll never receive compliment. Once a friend said she didn't want to come across as conceited, this is impossible unless when the compliment is given you say "i know"! Simply smile and say thank you! Not very hard!
And to sum up the rest, without going into how to address invitations and how to eat correctly... use the Golden rule... Treat others how you would like to be treated... I believe this is where many of the "upper crust" loose their etiquette... they believe that their station in life entitles them... they believe themselves to be classier then others.... But I will tell you what every true southern knows. The classiest person is the person who can make every person feel comfortable and welcome and not like an outsider... ah this is the bottom line of etiquette!