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"Now as to politeness. . . I would venture to call it benevolence in trifles."
Lord Chatham could not possibly have had the Harvard dining halls in mind when in one of his letters, he let drop this pearl of wisdom. Yet had be written in just after some Beef a la Dutch had been dropped down his lordly neck without so much as an "I beg your pardon," or a request for another noggin of milk had been answered by a noncommittal noise in the throat, his remark could not have been more apt.
Amenities of the serving staff in the Halls is not a subject for investigation by harried committees of overseers, nor an omission that the matrons would allow the committee of ladies who sample our food to suffer. Neither is it a biological necessity on a par with whole some food. Yet it has a certain importance along with such trivialities as neckties, clean hands, and the absence of too many Anglo-Saxon nionosyllables from our speech--which can be summed up under the single word, "manners."
Two or three days ago this whole question was resurrected from the grave of innocuous desuetude by a waitress, new to the particular dinning hall, who rashly said a pleasant "Yes, Sir" to the orders of the students, and "You're welcome" to their startled thanks. While she did not make an epochal innovation, still she sounded a note foreign to this great country where people run up escalators, and are all too used to gulping hamburgers thrown at them with bombshell velocity at quick lunches and "one-arm joints."
America has no "servant class" bred up to niceties of the household and restaurant as in England, and the notion of it is altogether discordant with any liberal traditions that we are fortunate enough to have. The suggestion that more attention be paid to the small amenities, noticed only when absent, draws no lines or social distinction, as it applies in nearly as great force to the student body. Furthermore, it would be hard for anyone at all to be a Lord Chesterfield on a salary or some twelve dollars a week. Yet that small extra effort, which soon becomes an unconscious habit, of politeness is one of the features that distinguish civilized urbanity from the frontier, and make a pleasure out of the process of living.
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