In November of 1973, Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut competed in the all-around competition at the European Championships. She performed well, but fellow Soviet gymnast Ludmilla Tourischeva performed better, winning gold to Olga’s silver. When the medal winners were walking to the awards platform, Olga suddenly turned away, walked to a bench, and sat down. She was so disappointed in coming in second that she wanted to refuse to accept the silver medal. However, a female Soviet coach walked over to Olga, grabbed her shoulders, and marched her back to the line. Olga accepted the silver medal and learned something about showing grace when coming in second.
Author Quentin Crisp used to know a homeless woman called The Countess who lived in a large trunk in a graveyard. She had a change of clothes, a portable stove, and some plates, cups, and saucers, and she used to entertain friends who would sit on broken gravestones. Despite being homeless, her manner was regal, and she liked to entertain invited friends only. If someone were to knock on her trunk without being invited to visit her, she would open the trunk and say, “You have not made an appointment. I am seeing no one today.”
As a child, Jackie Bouvier spoke the truth. Once, she and her little sister, Lee, got in an elevator, which was operated by a man with some white hair standing straight up from his forehead. Lee said politely to the elevator operator, “You look pretty well today.” But Jackie said, “That’s not true, Lee. You know very well he looks like a chicken.” Later, she became famous as Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a woman who closely observed the rules of etiquette.
Umpire Clarence “Pants” Rowland once called out Babe Ruth on a close play at third base one day, but he also praised him, helping him up, brushing off his uniform, and saying, “Great slide, Babe, but he just had you.” The Yankee players wondered why Babe didn’t argue the call, but Babe explained, “What could I do? I thought I was safe, but the guy was dusting my clothes off and telling me what a great slide I made. What could I say to him?”
Rumi, the founder of the Whirling Dervishes, understood and practiced good etiquette. An Armenian butcher once bowed to him seven times, and Rumi returned the bows. On another occasion, several children in a group bowed to him, and Rumi bowed to each of the children. One child was far off, and he called to Rumi, “Wait for me until I come.” Rumi waited, the child arrived and bowed to him, and Rumi returned the child’s bow.
Known for his fastballs, baseball player Walter Johnson was also known for being a gentleman. Once, a couple of people recognized him and talked to him for 20 minutes. His friend and teammate, Joe Judge, asked what they had been talking about. Mr. Johnson replied, “These men were telling me they knew my sister back in Kansas.” Surprised, Mr. Judge said, “I never knew you had a sister.” Mr. Johnson replied, “I don’t.”
After a baseball game at which he had officiated, minor league umpire Harry “Steamboat” Johnson was accosted by a woman who hit him several times with her umbrella. He warded off the blows as best he could, and then told the woman, “Lady, I don’t know who you are, but if you can get someone to introduce us, you can go on hitting me.” She laughed and quit hitting him.
Comedian Jay Leno declines to act as if he is better than other people. Once, while boarding a plane, he pushed himself in front of an old lady in a wheelchair, who waved him on and said, “Oh, go ahead, dearie.” This made him feel terrible. He said, “I felt like the guy on the Titanic who puts on a dress so he can get in the life raft first.” After that, he acted like a normal person instead of like a big shot.
Even when she was eight years old, gymnast Dominique Moceanu displayed good manners. Her first coach, Jeff LaFleur, once saw her running past two old ladies to reach the door of the ladies restroom. He thought at first that she was in a hurry, but then he saw that she had run past the two old ladies so she could hold the door open for them.
Babe Ruth had little education, especially in etiquette and polite conversation, although he tried to be polite. At an elegant dinner, he was served an asparagus salad, but he pushed his plate away. His hostess asked whether he disliked salad, and Babe replied politely, “Oh, it’s not that. It’s just that asparagus makes my urine smell.”
In an exhibition match, Horton Smith, Harry Cooper, Lawson Little, and Jimmy Thomson were preparing to tee off at the beginning of the game. Suddenly, a spectator ran up and asked Mr. Smith, “How does the match stand?” Mr. Smith replied, “All even, sir.” The spectator thanked him, then joined the other people in the gallery.
When John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962, he saw lights in Australia — the residents of the Australian cities Perth and Rockingham had turned on the lights for him. Mr. Glenn told NASA, “The lights show up very well, and thank everybody for turning them on, will you?”
There is a certain etiquette — and attention to safety — in pairs figure skating. For example, if the man is holding the woman high in the air and something happens so that she falls, proper etiquette requires that the man break her fall by allowing her to fall on top of him rather than directly onto the hard ice.
A woman was asked how she got her children to behave so nicely. She replied, “I give my seven-old-year $5, and he’s good. And I give my five-year-old $2, and he’s good.” She was then asked what she gave her three-year-old for him to be good. “Oh,” said the woman. “He’s like his father — good for nothing.”
“We preserve humaneness by being humane in our dealing with others.” — Tom Mullen.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved