MINDING MANNERS : Etiquette for ‘Little Lords and Ladies’

<i> Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for the Times Orange County Edition</i>

Flocken’s Wild Parenting Theory 203: All parents--even those who attend Grateful Dead concerts en famille and name their kids after herbal teas (Morning Mist! Sweet Spearmint! Breakfast Is Ready!)--secretly crave such children as Jane and Michael Banks, the strait-laced, impeccably mannered siblings in “Mary Poppins.”

Sure, laugh. But if we were really going to be honest with ourselves, we’d probably find a little George Banks in all of us, desirous of children who can exchange pleasantries with our bosses, correctly use three or more types of flatware and summon us to the phone without bellowing like a cow in labor.

Barbara Neal Peebles thinks so, too. The founder and owner of the Victorian Tea Co. in Long Beach will be in Costa Mesa this weekend to present “Little Lords and Ladies,” a 2 1/2-hour etiquette workshop for children age 7 to 12. Sponsored by Orange Coast College, the class, which is the first of its kind at OCC, meets Saturday in the school’s home economics building. A parent-and-child tea party is included with the registration fee.


Etiquette class? Your children? It is to laugh, right?

The idea isn’t as far-fetched as it seems, Peebles insists. Though her workshop touches on topics ranging from how to write a thank-you note to how to conduct oneself at afternoon tea, Peebles says the bottom line is friendliness, not stuffiness.

“We want children to realize that etiquette is really just the ability to make someone else feel comfortable,” said Peebles, “and to make themselves feel comfortable in social situations.”

Peebles has made a career out of being genteel. The daughter of Canadian-born parents, she grew up in a Midwest home where taking afternoon tea and cotillion classes was perfectly normal.

“We were kind of an anachronism in our neighborhood,” she recalled with a laugh.

A former music teacher, she once served as “officer of protocol” for a professional women’s organization in Winnipeg, where she also learned the exact science of military protocol from her cousin, an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Peebles married and moved to Southern California and in 1987 started Victorian Tea Co., a small business housed in a restored Victorian in downtown Long Beach that offers classes, catering and teas and other services, including a class in business etiquette for a Long Beach firm.

Apparently, her reputation as a local Miss Manners has spread, as evidenced by a recent phone call from a private Newport Beach club.


“There was a big debate among the members about whether women needed to remove their golf caps when they came in the lounge, like the men did,” she recalled. Naturally, Pebbles set them straight. Of course they are.

The “Little Lords and Ladies” class was started at the request of her clients and has been in demand at Cal State Long Beach for seven semesters, where the boy/girl ratio is roughly 40/60, Peebles said.

Though she admits that “my mom made me” is the No. 1 reason most children give for being in her class, she says almost all of them end up having a good time in spite of themselves.

“My goal is to keep it simple and fun,” she explained. “We do something called ‘Sidewalk Cake Walk’ in which we get them walking around the room in pairs in a pretend city, keeping the gentleman on the outside, and they learn how to keep that up . . . without tripping over each other’s feet.”

Games and role-playing also help teach telephone manners, conversational skills and appropriate behavior in a restaurant, said Peebles, who liberally dispenses stickers and other goodies as incentives. At the end of class, students reward themselves and show off their newfound skills at a tea party, complete with tea (heavily sugared, if requested) and sandwiches served on fine china.

The mother of a 4-year-old, Peebles admits that while a little polish can do wonders for a child’s self-esteem, if the going gets tough, good manners may not always save your neck on the schoolyard. But they can be of some benefit.


“This is about interacting with people . . . but we don’t get into behavioral psychology here,” she said. “But, like I tell my daughter, it helps to know how to use your words, to talk to them, try to work it out, and if it doesn’t, to walk away.

“Basically, I think it all comes down to kindness,” she continued. “If you put it out, it will come back. Maybe not immediately, but it will come back to you. That’s my belief.”