Etiquette – a Social Language

Enter password.  Click.  Accepted!  Your password  removes the electronic barrier giving you access to the data or secrets guarded behind.  Forget your password?  Ah, now you are at the mercy of the digital trolls guarding the treasure.  Enter the dark corridors and fumble your way through  the recovery mode to put you back in charge.  We grumble about remembering complex passwords in our modern lives but somehow we manage to function.

Life is good when you remember your password.  Business is conducted, messages sent and received, social connections are made. Etiquette or manners are social passwords we also balk at having to remember and observe but, like electronic passwords, they are necessary codes for conducting our lives in a civilized and pleasant way.

As long as humans have lived together, rules for conduct have been a reality and a necessity.  On the surface they appear rigid and arbitrary but in truth, etiquette is responsive to change. Using appropriate etiquette continues to unlock benefits and make life easier.

When we travel to foreign countries,  we take time to learn at least the few key words of Please and Thank you to make social interactions easy and enjoyable.   Does it help?  Of course it does.  But we don’t have to leave the country to be reminded that certain situations requires specific words and behaviour.

In a way, being mindful of etiquette is like learning another language.  Etiquette is a dialect of our  culture that is anchored in the past but functions now.   In a similar way, Latin is an ancient base of many of our modern languages. Etiquette seems as irrelevant as Latin but even a few Latin phrases come in handy.  So what is the best way to learn a language or remember a password?  Learn by using.  Write a note of thanks.  It doesn’t take long to think of someone who has helped you lately.  Click. Perhaps you have received a gift.  Did you write them a note of thanks?  Click.

The test of good manners is to be patient with the bad ones. Solomon Ibn Gabirol

You are Invited . . .

“Nothing annoys people so much as not receiving invitations.”
― Oscar WildeThe Importance of Being Earnest

As per our chat last week, September always signals a start or beginning.  We push the reset button and pick up the connections that languished through the summer.  Sports leagues or classes commence, the theatre and arts scene comes alive and our personal lives get busier with the resumption of dinners and social events.  It is an exciting time of year as we return refreshed from summer’s ease to the events and activities that enhance our day to day routine.

If you are a host or hostess, consider adding an extra flourish to your events and send hand written invitations.   Receiving an invitation is clearly an honour.  You are inclined to accept and reciprocate.  The value of the invitation  is  further enhanced when it is addressed in your own hand on an intriguing invitation or card; so much more appealing than receiving a text or e-vite …

Any social event is worthy of an invitation.  This added touch is appropriate for even  simple gatherings like cocktails, a wine tasting or a games night.  The appeal of quick and casual communications is fading and contributes to a careless way of interacting.  There aren’t many restrictive rules regarding written invitations but if you are curious there are scads of places to seek advice.

Towering above all is Debrett’s.  Since 1769 Debrett’s has grown to be the trusted resource for all questions regarding etiquette and is truly the first arbiter of social networking.  Any organization that can maintain its relevance for almost 250 years is clearly keeping pace.  Initially a published register of the noble elite of England, it offers  guidance both personal and professional that is invaluable as we navigate the complexities of life.   The website is a fascinating view into British behaviour and the sources of obscure customs and practices that carry forward to our times.

Informal invitations need to cover the basics of who, where, what type of event, when, and why the occasion.  This is a great way to use a  personalized note card and allows you to customize the information freely.  Many of the cards offered via our newsletter make great invitations so be sure to sign up and receive news of the monthly offerings.

Happy New Year!

Given that the calendar year is a circular sort of concept, proclaiming 1 January as New Year’s Day seems arbitrary.  Any school kid, past or present, will tell you that the new year starts in September when school resumes.  September is the month of fresh starts.  The slothful pace of summer is shed like our sun tanned skin.  Cooler temperatures cause us to quicken our pace and waken our senses.  September is also the time when cultural  and social activity resumes.  As our lungs fill with cooler air, our heads are also looking for new things to discover.

New teachers, perhaps new schools, new clothes, fresh supplies and books and a mountain of new things to learn adds up to a Beginning.  Remember sitting at your new school desk?  Even the most disinterested student takes momentary delight in the feel of a new pen or pencil as they write their name in a fresh notebook.  The whole year is stretched out before you with all the strangeness of new subjects yet with anticipation of adventure and challenge.

This notion is reinforced year after year until graduation but persists into our post scholastic lives.

Perhaps your school years are behind you but when September rolls up, we feel  a familiar urge to learn something new or brush up an old skill.   So what will your new subject be?  Perhaps you could start by renewing an old skill and take up your pen.  Very few of us are proud of our handwriting but just like tennis or photography or any language, it improves with practice.

Set aside the laptop, treat yourself to a new pen and some fine paper and play.  Just like the pattern of your speech or style of your walk, your handwriting expresses your personality.  How long has it been since you last put your thoughts on paper?  Your words . . . your style!  It is quite exciting when you think of how much personality is packed into those inky marks on paper.

Who do you write to?  A friend who you’ve not heard from in a while?  Someone you have met over the summer?  Without exception, anyone you address your letter to will be thrilled to receive your note.    Happy New Year!

The beginning is the most important part of the work. – Plato


Keep in touch!

There is a change in the air that whispers “fall” and the heat of the sun is less intense.  One last burst of summer joy is approaching before our regular routines resume.  Summer is drawing to a close.  If only we could make it last. .  . we drag out feet towards the fall.

Did you capture summer moments in photos?  Perhaps you are gathering in the best fruits of the season for preservation in jars.  Or did you write postcards to your friends and family back home, sharing the highlights of your summer vacation?  There is something magic about summer moments that  makes us want  hold them forever.

Our desire to hold on to the best of summer is completely understandable.  Have you met new friends, perhaps even fallen in love?  Some of those connections are worth cultivating, a big  challenge as we return to our packed schedules.

You may have exchanged emails and phone numbers but the absolute best way to connect is with a hand written note. A few lines or a doodle on a post card breathes life into a long distance friendship, delivering tangible evidence of your connection, and is a true gift.   Your hand written note may even inspire one in return.

Keeping in touch with a hand written note invites your new acquaintance into the other side of summer: your everyday life.  Such notes are the slow cuisine of communications:  a bit of your heart and spirit mixed thoughtfully with time, ink and paper yields a result that the receiver may savour for years.   Your note need not replace the convenience of digital communication but it certainly enhances the flavour of your connection.

I once received a postcard from a friend living only a couple of hundred kilometers from me announcing that he was going to be out of touch for a while due to an emergency at work.  He could have phoned but the hasty scrawl on the back of a postcard featuring a moose meant, in his haste, he was thinking of me.  I still have the postcard and our relationship, now a marriage, is in its third decade.  Keeping in touch with a hand written message can mean the start rather than the end of a season.

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
― Henry James

Message in a Bottle

Love letters, farewells, desperate cries for rescue have all found their ways into the most hopeful  of all  communication systems: the message in the bottle.  Writing a note, sealing it in a bottle and tossing it into the sea speaks of hope over reason.  And what about the other end of the message’s journey?  Have you ever received or discovered such a message?

Blame our innate desire to communicate and the ancient Greeks for this concept.  The earliest recorded release of a message in a bottle can be pinned on the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus back around 310 B.C.  Not sure if anyone picked up that bottle; perhaps it is still out there.

Even a Man of Action like Christopher Columbus is known to have put his hopes in this passive communication method when he cast a bottled message to Queen Isabella  into the sea during a storm.  During her reign, Queen Elizabeth saw the potential value of bottles bearing messages. To control the wave borne information, she created the official position  of “Uncorker of Ocean Bottles”,  Think of how that would look on your resume!

But we do want to reach out, don’t we?  Calling a random phone number in the hopes of starting a conversation suggests an unhinged mind.  Sending an email to a stranger is labelled spam but the bottled message cast out into the great unknown carries importance even if the message is nothing more than a dated note with an address.  Finders of such messages go to great lengths to deliver them even if the intended recipient is likely no longer living.

With many Great War anniversaries being marked this year, some interesting stories have emerged.  Perhaps it is only allegorical but a twist on the message in a bottle was created by a French woman working in a factory making army helmets when she added hand written notes inside the lining.  She wrote to strangers but sent her heart felt encouragement to the soldiers receiving the helmets and wished them a quick return to their home and families.  Imagine being mired in the mud of Normandy and finding the note as you adjust your new helmet.

Technology pushes the concept into new formats such as balloons and beyond into space on metal plaques.

And so we persist with the desire to share our thoughts and happily satisfy that need with a simple pen and paper.


Take me with you!

Your bags are packed and you are ready to roll.  Excitement, anticipation, what have I forgotten?  Friends and family wish you “safe travels” albeit with pangs of envy and cries of “take me with you”.

Your adventure is launched!

Whether you travel alone or with companions, consider bringing a notebook to record your adventures.  Keeping a travel journal can be a very satisfying way to relive the moments and document your stories and photographs.

While some prefer to use electronics to capture their travels, a hand written journal is very efficient and adaptable to your travel style.  You don’t need to charge it and theft is rarely a problem.  Travel journals can be simple records of your itinerary and photo log or expand to a sketchbook – as inspiration possesses you.

A few tips for keeping a travel journal:

Bring a journal that is easy to carry with a hard back that serves as a desktop when writing on the fly.

Bring a pencil as well as a pen in case words fail you and a sketch tells your story best.

Write every day.  Set aside a quiet moment each day to gather your impressions while they are fresh.

What surprised you?  Record the sights, smells, sounds and amusements of your day.

This is YOUR story; don’t fuss over perfection.

Bring a roll of tape or glue stick to fasten ticket stubs, postcards, business cards to the journal.

It is a rare day when there is not at least ONE thing that makes you grateful.  Record that.

Ultimately you are creating your own souvenir.  Reading journals from trips taken long ago is a window into who you were on that journey and gives a perspective on how far you’ve come on the Big Journey of Life.

Not traveling right now?  Some of the best reads are basically travel diaries.  Here are a few travel journals that will sweep you away.

As They Were, M.F.K. Fisher (1982)

A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle

Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell (1933)

Farthest North: The Voyage and Exploration of the Fram, 1893–1896, Fridtjof Nansen (1898)

The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain (1869)

Travels with Myself and Another, Martha Gellhorn (1978)

West with the Night, Beryl Markham (1942)

Wish You Were Here!

Post cards are the strangest things: Sending them means a “time out” from your vacation to search for a post office knowing that the cards will arrive AFTER you are home, if at all.  But when you receive them, they are WONDERFUL.

Where did this form of communication come from?  Why, in the face of Instagram and Facebook, do they still exist?

Postcards started out as the text message or DM of the day.  When postal services began, postcards answered the call for quick communications.  Back then, mail was delivered more than once a day. No envelope was needed so they were easy to use.  The first picture postcard was hand painted and sent around 1840.

When we think of postcards, we think of souvenir postcards; cheesy photos from foreign places.  Souvenir postcard were first sent in 1871 showing an image of Vienna on one side with the message and address on the reverse.  But that type of postcard was really only a segment of the postcard world.

Postcards were used to share jokes, proclaim love, sell bonds, promote political causes and of course share news.  During both World Wars, a post card from a soldier at the Front carried an important message.  Even a few pencilled words were treasured by those at home and at war.  Cards delivered during war times were truly miraculous.  In the midst of all the chaos and confusion, somehow postcards and letters got through.  The hope was that the sender made it through too.

But now, postcards get no respect. Or is that is changing?  In 2005, Paulo Magalhaes from Portugal started a project that became a bit of revival: PostCrossing. It is a low tech alternative to the social network.  It takes very little to join this project and the rewards are truly personal. Request an address and send a postcard to that person.  Soon a postcard will appear in your mailbox!  This simple concept has connected people from over 200  countries with 24 million cards and given them excitement and delight when they pick up their mail.  One user likens it to Twitter for snail mail.

Event planners and brides have started using a postcard format to ask invitees to Save The Date.  These announcement needs to stand out and yet be cost effective.  A postcard fits the bill.  Humour is often part of that style of postcard.

Strange and wonderful, postcards are still holding their own in the world of communication.  Refinemark’s postcards can be seen here.

Thankful for Happy Accidents?

“Never work with children or animals”.  W.C. Fields

W.C. was known for his curmudgeonly persona and his words have often proven true.  Children and animals have their own energy that can completely hijack the best of plans.

A  Refinemark photo shoot seemed to prove the point.

Adding to our series of Journal entries about gratitude and thanks, Refinemark is deeply grateful for the many friends who have generously shared their time, opinions, talents and even their homes.  Susan is one such friend who graciously opened her beautiful home to us as a back drop to photo shoots featuring our products.

Not only did she allow us free rein on moving furniture and arranging her personal possessions as props for the shoot, the daily routine of her little Norfolk terrier Scotty was also disrupted on our account.

Scotty’s puppy days are a distant memory so the possibility of play time with new friends likely had no appeal for him on the day we ascended on his steps.  But he was well trained.  After living 8 years in France, the flurry of activity was received with doggy nonchalance. That is until the key photo was being shot.  Our web cover photo was homage to a famous photo of Coco Chanel writing at her desk in her Paris apartment.  All the elements were in place: drapery, model, props, lighting and then canine intervention occurred.

Scotty sauntered in and sat down in the centre of the shot.  And he smiled.  We called and coaxed to the best of our abilities.  Stubbornly, Scotty held his pose and continued to smile.  The only solution was to take the picture and later crop him out.  The moment the shot was taken, he moved back out to the porch where he spent the rest of the day.  His moment was over.

When our photographer sent us the proofs we were stunned to realize that the Scotty shot was perfect.  His presence demonstrates the surprise and adventure behind our brand.  What a happy accident!

Of course, our next photo shoot featured Scotty and he performed brilliantly.

Yes, we are thankful for happy accidents.

The Business of Thanks

Perhaps you were invited to and attended a product launch, open house or corporate award gala.

Do you have time to write a thank you note?

It is a competitive business world.  Getting ahead and separating yourself from the business herd is a constant challenge.

Can you afford NOT to write that thank you note?

The time and the effort you make  to put your thoughts on paper will be rewarded.  You create a memorable impression and your response strengthens business and personal relations in a powerful way.  And your hand written note will be saved.

When do you write that thank you note?

Timing is important: send your note within three days of the event.

What do you say?

Keep it brief. Your note should express gratitude for the invitation, compliment the recipient/organization sincerely and refer to future interactions. Avoid clichés.

End with one more statement of thanks.

Your closing, also known as the “valediction” (from Latin “vale dicere”, means farewell) should appropriately reflect the nature of the relationship.  It is the bookend to your introduction, also known as “Salutation”.

How do your notes stand out from other business correspondence?

Write your message on a fine quality folded note card or, a flat note card the size of a standard business envelope (#10).  This correspondence card should be customized and having a good supply of cards on hand will ensure you will use them.

In business we focus a great deal of time and energy on the bottom line and how to operate for maximum profit.  Take a moment and think about how many people you owe a word of thanks.  In our business journey, those opportunities arise on a daily basis: a colleague who takes the time to review a project and offer his opinion, customers who praise our work and offer a referral and the supplier who has gone the extra mile.

Business relationships are very much like personal relationships and require nurturing.

Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone. – G.B. Stern

Thanks Man!

So your best friend connected you to a potential client that has now signed on and will be worth gold. How do you thank him? A quick “thanks man” as you chat at the gym? Or maybe a note sent with a bottle of his favorite scotch? A tangible “Thank you” is the grease you want to use for these social gears. It is the written equivalent of the firm handshake.

Do you have the “write” tools?

Without the right tools, the job won’t get done. A Man’s take on tools is simple: always buy the best you can afford and keep the tools easy to find so you don’t have to search for them when you need them. Same principle applies for writing equipment.

What do you need?

A guy should start with a great pen. A pen is a very personal choice. What suits you best? Ball point, roller ball or fountain pen? They all offer different experiences. Just like in the hardware store or car dealership, try some out. Get comfortable with the grip. Once you settle on a choice, keep it reserved for writing those notes that matter.

Next on the list is paper.

The pen and paper combo has to click like your putter and golf ball. Once again, try some out but select a weight, colour and finish that feels good. You want a paper that is appropriate for all sorts of notes and won’t smear and slide all over.

Some assembly is required.

Your words can be simple and to the point.
“Doug, thank you for connecting me to Exco. They have recently signed with us and it could not have happened without your help.
With appreciation. Ed.”

Use your “voice”. Don’t be intimated. Be your own man, but get the job done.

Finally, keep a supply of stamps on hand just like that collection of screws you have accumulated over the years.

What have YOU GOT in your toolbox? Is it kitted out with items from the convenience store? Hardly! You insist on quality and functionality and you want those tools to work every time. The same standard goes for the tools you need to write a Thank You note.

The Refinemark thank you notes can be viewed here.