Confusion makes etiquette lesson backfire

Olivia, age nine, mimics me in her speech pattern. I speak like a confident adult – or like a newscaster. In news, you end the sentence on a “down” note to imply authority. Think about it: if it ends on an “up” note, doesn’t that seem like a question?

TV news was my milieu for a long, long time. That, and the fact that I lived for decades on the mainland. It feels like people I interacted with in San Francisco or New York had a more confident speech pattern. 

I can soften it up, but it’s not my default. I have had to learn the ability to lilt, quiet the voice, and raise the voice – mostly when talking to children. 

Anyway, the saying goes that one’s greatest weakness is one’s greatest strength, and so it is. What serves me well in the business world doesn’t serve me as well as a mother. 

It turns out my child copies even my method of speaking. Childhood is the time for trying out new things, and she sometimes hits the mark, and sometimes doesn’t.

Sometimes she gets the tone and delivery just right and it would be perfect, if only she were 20. Sometimes she doesn’t and it is slight off-key in a social way.

We’ve noticed this for a while and made periodic corrections, but like anything, it requires multiple reminders.

The other day, because we have seven houseguests, I didn’t want to embarrass her. I pulled her aside and whispered (again) that she needs to sound sweeter because she’s a child and she’s addressing a group that includes adults.

“End the sentence on an up note,” I advised. “Raise your voice if you’re trying to be polite.”

Apparently, she took me literally. The whole next day, while playing with houseguests’ kids at the beach, she was speaking so loudly that we could hear Olivia from far away. She was not yelling, but rather, speaking as if they were hard-of-hearing.

Claus walked up to her and told her not to speak so loudly. She looked at him and said, “But? Mom said to raise my voice if I’m trying to be polite?”

Bless her heart. 

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