12 Etiquette Lessons We Learned from Our Favorite Classic Movies
Etiquette is the carefully choreographed number we learn to dance here in the South starting the moment we’re first able to wobble. From keeping those elbows off the table to addressing our elders with respect, we’re taught early and rigorously the essential etiquette rules for every situation. Even now, in the age of email invites and dating apps, there’s still a place for manners in the South, and there always will be. Nonetheless, we’re always up for expanding our repertoire, and some of our favorite movies can teach us a thing or two about etiquette. We rounded up the best classic movies with a lesson ready to be learned in the art of being a polite, gracious, and well-mannered Southerner; so, if you please, read on for these life lessons and the famed lines that gave them to us.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Lesson we learned: Always put your best foot forward.
How we learned it: “Hand me my purse, will you, darling? A girl can’t read that sort of thing without her lipstick.”
We're firm believers that a little lipstick goes a long way, and most Southern women won’t be caught dead at the grocery store without their hair and face properly gussied up. It’s like a coat of armor, preparing us for anything. And what better way to show respect to others than showing up on time, looking put-together and with a smile on?
Lesson we learned: Using your manners shouldn't be selective.
How we learned it: “‘I was in here yesterday, you wouldn’t wait on me. You people work on commission, right?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.’”
This love story makes us swoon, but we feel a pang of girl power every time the shopping scene starts. If you’ve ever entered a boutique where you haven’t felt welcome, this moment might make you want to go back and teach them a little etiquette lesson. Manners shouldn’t be put on for special company, but rather worn at all times and for everyone.
Lesson we learned: Always listen to Mama—because she’s got the wisdom.
How we learned it: “My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.'”
We don’t know how, but Mama always knows just what to say. Every turn-of-phrase has a way of sticking with us, buried deep, until we need it. Life doesn’t always turn out as planned, but it’s more about how you react. A little patience and mindfulness separates the well-mannered from the not.
Gone with the Wind
Lesson we learned: Don’t consider reputations as end-all-be-all.
How we learned it: “With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.”
The ultimate classic, Gone with the Wind, makes us dream of ruffled hoop skirts and witty banter with a Southern gentleman. (Even if that gentleman has a “most terrible” reputation.) Rhett Butler, despite his devil-may-care demeanor, made us realize that in the end, you don’t have to let your reputation have power over your future. There’s always room for improvement, and a chance to still get the girl.
Lesson we learned: If you don’t have anything nice to say, get creative.
How we learned it: “The nicest thing I can say about her is all her tattoos are spelled correctly.”
Poor Louie. He should’ve known introducing his tattooed new girlfriend to these wise-cracking Southern women would lead to some colorful commentary. Of course, the saying goes “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But we’re in the South; and when we’re around our best girlfriends, that’s just asking too much.
Sweet Home Alabama
Lesson we learned: Etiquette goes out the door once someone insults Mama.
How we learned it: "Nobody talks to my mama like that!" (Followed by a swift punch.)
The etiquette rule about etiquette: It doesn’t apply once someone brings your Mama into the mix. At that point, the white gloves are off.
Lesson we learned: Manners can absolutely be taught, and it’s never too late.
How we learned it: “I’m sorry, what was the question? I was distracted by the half-masticated cow rolling around in your wide-open trap.”
This tale of frog-to-princess, if you will, teaches that even the most hopeless of causes can be transformed into proper young ladies. More importantly, it asserts that it’s never too late to learn manners, especially if you have a Victor to guide you there with expertly pointed sass and sarcasm.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Lesson we learned: Handle gossip with grace.
How we learned it: “Remember if people talk behind your back, it only means you are two steps ahead.”
Besides learning that a good friend is worth more than gold, this movie taught us that handling gossip with grace is the ultimate act of good manners. Taking the high road is always better than sinking low.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lesson we learned: Judging a book by its cover only shows poor judgment.
How we learned it: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
This novel and its adapted movie teach a thing or two about human compassion and social decency, but this moment transcends. Judging people by their intentions and trying to first understand those intentions are both pivotal pieces of advice that all gracious Southerners (who love TKAM) follow.
Lesson we learned: There’s a difference between being polite and too polite.
How we learned it: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”
Having manners is often more about restraint than asserting your opinion, but sometimes you have to speak up for yourself and those who deserve it. Baby (excuse us, Frances) learned to defy the rules when called for.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
Lesson we learned: Never share a lady’s age.
How we learned it: “Now, I don't want any candles on my cake. It'll look like the burnin' of Atlanta!”
Every Southern sisterhood has an unspoken set of rules. Rule number one: Never spill your girlfriend’s age unless directed to do so! Once it reaches a certain number, we’d like to start ticking back down, please.
Lesson we learned: Always be on time—unless you’re the queen. (Which you are not. So be on time.)
How we learned it: “The Queen is never late. Everyone else is simply early.”
We can imagine finding out your grandmother is a queen (and you’re a princess) is quite the wake-up call when your manners are less than perfect. Besides the royal makeover-and-etiquette lessons montage in this newer cult classic, we loved knowing that it’s okay to be late…if you’re a queen. For us, that’s Mama. Other than that, being on time is a manners must-have.