Modern-etiquette

Social Etiquette 101: Never Ask A Woman If She’s Pregnant

Pop quiz – If you’re the unfortunate victim of a heinous faux pas, do you:
a) Laugh it off;
b) Make a voodoo doll in the offending person’s likeness; and/or
c) Send hate glitter.

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Personally, I feel like doing all three after the unmitigated horror of being mistaken for a pregnant woman last week – while being frocked-up to the nines at a fashion festival no less. I am only mildly consoled by the fact that this crime against humanity commonly occurs to other women too – even, and especially, to gorgeous A-list celebrities.

Today, when writing this, I guffawed in horror and empathy at this recent tweet I recalled, which I had to go back and find in my Twitter Favourites, from the ABC’s Media Watch program’s @ABCmediawatch account:

#Mediawatch congrats Jen for another pregnancy (WD), w twins (NI) & adopting (NW). 8 times in the last year: Supermum!”

That’s newlywed A-list actor Jennifer Aniston to whom the tweet refers. The poor lass has been labelled pregnant by the tabloids so many times over the past few years she’s had approximately 456765 babies. Feeling your pain, Jen!

Look, unless someone is about to give birth in front of you and/or actually tells you they are pregnant, I think a good, basic social etiquette rule of thumb is never EVER ask someone if they’re with child. As in never, ever!

You never know what journey someone’s on or what they’re going through: could they have miscarried? Or, perhaps they’ve been ill? Or maybe – as in poor, ol Aniston’s case they simply ate a pie and were wrongly assumed to be pregnant a million, trillion times by the unforgiving gaze of the voyeuristic beast that is the world’s story-hungry tabloid media.

pregnant2
I thought I had a good body image until I was the victim of this recent pregnancy faux pas, but these cruel and stupid words left me quite upset – like someone had literally kicked me in the guts. What was worse, is that I was at a social event and had to pull myself together, fast. Sure, I’ve got a little mummy tummy after recently having two kids close together within three years and it’s something I’m ALREADY aware of, thank you very much. What’s more, I’m working hard on it, among raising two small, beautiful healthy girls amid the busy humdrum of life as a working mum.

Was I slouching at the time of said pregnancy faux pas in my impossibly high Italian heels I’m convinced were trying to brutally kill me? Yes, it’s highly possible.

Still, did I need a work contact/acquaintance to so rudely and uncouthly jump to the conclusion I was with child? Nope, not one bit. And I couldn’t help but wonder: where was this woman’s manners? How did she get through life not knowing you never, ever say that to another woman? We all make mistakes, but to not even apologise once you’ve uttered these appalling words and made such an abominable breach of good manners and social etiquette?! I was, and still remain, absolutely aghast at the woman’s obnoxious behaviour while simultaneously being angry at myself for just how shitty it made me feel. Why was I giving her all this power over such a senseless, stupid comment?

A clinical psychologist who wishes to remain anonymous, whom I also count as a good friend, was quick to remind me to “let it go”; look after my emotional health and most of all, to not give a flying fuck what this idiot woman thought of me. Here’s her most excellent extended advice for good measure, if you’re ever faced with the same mortifying situation:

“From time-to-time someone will say something to you which has the potential to upset and offend you. Maybe they deliberately set out to hurt you or perhaps they are lacking in social awareness and sensitivity. Either way, you have a choice – you can be hurt and offended and spend hours/days/weeks mulling over the comment and feeling miserable, or you can shrug it off for the stupid and insensitive remark that it is. It’s your choice,” she says.

“However as you are responsible for your own emotional well-being, wallowing in misery and hurt is a mistake. Give yourself some tough love: tell yourself to get over it and move on to more important things. And in future avoid people and situations which upset you, while surrounding yourself with people whom you trust and who have your best interests at heart.”

So, I took her top advice and did the tough self-talk and reminded myself it was OK to not look like a supermodel and instead be a healthy, happy size 12-14 curvaceous woman with all her flaws, including a somewhat rounded, little belly.

So, why my self-loathing? At 41, I’ve borne two gorgeous children close together; was it high time I accepted the fact my body had changed? I no longer had the hard, flat abs of my pre-baby youth – and so what?! Who considers me beautiful? My husband and two-year-old and four-year-old daughters, thankfully and yes, on a good day, I feel pretty good; when someone isn’t pointing out my flaws, anyway. And what is beauty? It’s about much, much more than just physical appearance, that’s for sure; it’s within, as the old adage goes.

And then there’s the good manners side of the equation; even my small children know not to be rude to people in public. I’m currently at pains to try to teach them about both the enormous beauty and ugliness of words – that language has incredible power and weight and if they hurt someone (whether intentional or not), they must apologise.

Secondly, what is wrong with our society that people expect you to have erased all evidence of recent childbirth as though it never happened? I was at a fashion event, I guess, but is it too much to hope industry types actually know women come in all shapes and sizes?

I mean, what if I had an eating disorder?! You never know what impact a cruel, thoughtless statement can have on someone. It’s far kinder to generously compliment one another, rather than saying something unfiltered, negative and unthinking, as my offending person did.

social etiquette, good manners, faux pas

When I shared this unfortunate tale of being victim to a pregnancy faux pas with several of my best friends, they were utterly sympathetic and outraged too, on my behalf. And what’s worse, is that they all knew of several other women to whom this had also happened to. What the fuck? Is social etiquette a dying art?

Images via nydailynews.com, mirror.co.uk, huffingtonpost.co.uk

What do you think? Tell us about your social faux pas experiences.

September 2, 2015

Interview: Essential Etiquette Tips From Downton Abbey

Who doesn’t wish they were transported back in time to 1924 and were part of the social circles of Downton Abbey?

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Celebrating the release of season 5 on DVD and Blu-ray, we have enlisted the help of Sydney School of Protocol expert Julie Lamberg-Burnet to give our readers a little insight into how important etiquette still is in 2015, with a few tips included on how to gain confidence and credibility through a myriad of short courses on offer.

How important are etiquette skills in this day and age?

Etiquette and protocols have not changed for many centuries – it is the landscape that has changed – across communications, the competitive job market and relationship building people want to know how to act and behave appropriately in a range of business, personal and cultural settings. Modern etiquette is about respect for people. In today’s world this is reflected in how adaptable we are in the way we interact with people, their circumstances and situations.

Could you briefly outline the curriculum the Sydney School of Protocol teaches?

Protocol and etiquette provide us with life enhancing skills we see as crucial at every stage of our lives. Our programs are tailored to each individuals needs through work, life, study. The majority of our clients are individuals and corporate businesses with a focus on developing soft skills to enhance their personal and business brands.

Programs include Women in Front and Outclass the Competition  a series of mastery sessions for men and women to enhance their image and presentation, build their personal brand and develop effective communication skills and tools for success. Suited to clients who wish to advance their careers, those preparing to step into the workplace after a period of time and those entering the workplace.

One of the most popular programs is Dine Like a Diplomat – an interactive, fun session which businesses and universities invest in as a team building program focused on business etiquette and international protocol. Or as parents investing time with their children to learn about manners, social etiquette and dining in a modern context.

Is there a way to modernise etiquette skills for all situations?

Nowadays we experience a myriad of challenges in our fast paced world with multicultural dynamics; a variety of communication channels through which we interact and connect with each other. From a modern etiquette perspective it is knowing what is appropriate, when.

While in the interactions in Downton Abbey, set in an Edwardian period, reflected a stiffer formality than today, the fundamentals of etiquette remain much the same. Situations and events affecting the lives at Downton Abbey in the 1900s reflect many modern day themes: constant change, the building of business and social relationships around the dining table, courtesy and respect with the servants and the power of influence and exercising power.

For example, we use a variety of communication channels today which highlight how we portray ourselves – our personal brand. For example, email etiquette: do we endeavour to respond within 24 hours, even to acknowledge the email? When do we send a thank you note to our host and which channel do we use?

What are some of the most challenging parts of teaching these skills?

People tend to fall back onto their habits and comfort zones, particularly in stressful situations. As the majority of our clients come with the desire and commitment to enhance their confidence and change something within themselves, it is most satisfying to observe the transformation that takes place.

A commitment to practice the skills in various settings makes a world of difference. For example, a client in an accountant management role, who lacked confidence in speaking English – although highly qualified – had to pluck up the courage each day to make conversations within his workplace. After gaining new skills and practicing in various situations he was delighted with the response from his colleagues, who then engaged him in social conversation.

How important is etiquette in regards to advancing your career?

Very important. Being self-aware and knowing what to do and when and how, is extremely important to advance in your career. Only then can one build progress. For success in a competitive world ‘people skills’ are key to gaining confidence, credibility and a point of difference. Most business deals and discussions today take place in social environments – over the dining table, networking, through digital channels. A polished and confident presentation will generally outclass academic and technical qualifications.

Finally, who can partake in these classes?

The Sydney School of Protocol program suite caters for everyone from teens, graduates to corporates and CEOs. Both private coaching and group sessions are tailored to suit the needs of the individuals and business.

Interview: Etiquette Tips From Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Season 5, now available to own on DVD and Blu-ray

June 8, 2015