Interview with Mister Manners aka Thomas P. Farley

By Rana DiOrio, Founder of Little Pickle Press
Last week I had the great pleasure of interviewing Mister Manners (a.k.a. Thomas P. Farley). How did I come to interview the Mister Manners? Well, I asked if he would be amenable, politely. And he accepted my invitation, thoughtfully, promptly, and ever-so-graciously. Here’s how our conversation unfolded.
Ms. DiOrio: How did you get into the manners business?
Mister Manners: Manners have always been important to me. My parents and teachers were adamant about writing thank you notes, refraining from saying “shut up”, etc.
I accepted a job at Town & Country writing the Social Graces column, which addressed issues of contemporary etiquette. Essentially it was about how we deal with one another on an everyday basis. My writings evolved into a Modern Manners anthology. I think I enjoyed early success in this arena because I was a young man who brought a fresh perspective to the subject matter (historically dominated by older women authoritarians).
Ms. DiOrio: Which manners do you miss the most in our modern society?
Mister Manners: Modern is the key term in this question. People have become overly-reliant upon emails and texting. Our telephones at home and our cell phones ring very rarely. The idea of putting a pen to paper is anathema. These skills are not being used. Children and young people especially need to communicate verbally and in writing.

I save thank you notes when I receive them. People don’t print out emails and put them on the refrigerator. People do, however, put handwritten thank you notes there. So, to answer your question succinctly, I’d say that in our modern society I most miss communicating well through the spoken and written word.

Ms. DiOrio: Which three manners do you think are most important to teach children as soon as they can understand?
Mister Manners:
1.     Please;
2.    Thank you; and
3.     Sorry.
If children can understand the importance of these three phrases, they have mastered 99% of all manners they will ever need to know.

Close behind is, “you’re welcome”.

Ms. DiOrio: How much do you think the media influences manners today?
Mister Manners: As a member of the media myself, I think they take a lot of blame undeservedly so. The greater source of blame is technology itself, which is encroaching upon our time. Devices are wonderful and serve a purpose, but they take time away from social graces.
Furthermore, the media is delivering what the public is eager to consume. Kim Kardashian, for example, is not a positive role model for young girls. Parents need to take responsibility for what content their children are consuming and not try to lay the blame on the media.
Ms. DiOrio: Why is it so much easier to fall into bad manners than good manners?

Mister Manners: It’s the path of least resistance. I don’t think most people are sitting down thinking, “What can I do to be rude today”? By the same token, being polite takes thought and time. What if a working mom skips writing thank you notes for her one-year-old’s birthday party? Is that OK? No. We are hyper-scheduled, so we cut corners when it comes to social graces.

Ms. DiOrio: Can a person be too polite? What if my good manners make people around me uncomfortable?

Mister Manners: Manners exist to grease the wheels of social interaction. They enable us to co-exist without confusion, so we can focus on more important things.

Putting on false airs of fussy manners completely undermines the reason for manners, which is to make people feel comfortable. It’s off-putting. My advice is to be mindful of the people you are with and modulate your manners to best suit the audience.

Ms. DiOrio: How do I model good behavior to children?

Mister Manners: Good manners start in the home. Both parents need to be on board. The kids follow what they witness.

“Do what I say, not what I do” doesn’t cut it. Keep your language clean.
Family dinners are very important to cultivate manners in children. Stop making excuses and make them happen. Have dinner together as a family at least twice a week. Quality interaction is essential to shaping children.

Stress the importance of using Please, Thank you, and Sorry; and do so yourself.

Above all else, treat your children with respect. They will treat others the way you treat them.

Ms. DiOrio: How do I protect them from the bad manners of other people?

Mister Manners: There is no way to isolate a child from bad manners. There will inevitably be scenarios where kids are exposed to bad manners. So, give them a strong foundation at home. As you witness bad behavior, use it as a springboard for discussion about the differences in homes.

You may consider accompanying your child on a play date to see whether the host family has the same manners as you do at home.

Certain adults want to be called by their first names vs. Mr./Dr./Mrs./Ms. So-and-so. This can be very confusing for a child. There is something important lost when the formality goes away. Discuss this with your children.

Ms. DiOrio: What is the manners question people ask you most often?

Mister Manners: Who goes through the revolving door first, the man or the woman? The answer is that the man goes first to push the door. It’s a paradox. The woman, being the fairer sex, needs the man to push the door for her. That said, I typically give the door a push and then usher the woman into the revolving door ahead of me.

Ms. DiOrio: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Mister Manners: I have two more things to offer:
1. Manners are the foundation for making children successful and well-liked, the sort of person their peers will admire. Having good manners does not mean you have to be a doormat though. Think about the reactions a cancelled flight yields. On the one hand you have an irate passenger who is raising his voice to the gate agent. On the other, you have a level-headed passenger who knows his rights and who is politely working with the gate agent to see that they are honored. It’s the level-headed passenger who is going to get re-booked on the next flight. Similarly, the child who is throwing a temper tantrum is not going to get the result she wants. The child who is polite is in a far better position to get what she wants.
2. Parents, please put away your devices. Don’t ignore your children because you are engrossed in your devices. I assure you, this behavior will come back to haunt you.

Ms. DiOrio: Thank you for joining us, Mister Manners. Readers, we hope you leave us a comment or question.
Thomas P. Farley is a manners expert who has been interviewed on matters of etiquette by the Today show, the CBS Early Show, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, People Style Watch, USA Today, CNN, ABC and Nick at Nite’s TV Land, as well as on radio stations across the country. A graduate of Fordham University, Farley is presently at work on his second book, which will address the tricky matter of tech etiquette—from BlackBerry use to Facebook quandaries. You can read more about him here. Find his other books here. Be sure to connect with him on Twitter and Facebook, and watch this interesting video interview about the well-mannered way to post photos of your friends on Facebook!

30 thoughts on “Interview with Mister Manners aka Thomas P. Farley

  1. Good interview, Little Pickle Press and Mister Manners! Especially like the suggestion that children respond to adults with titles and surnames. Shows respect and quite frankly everyone knows who is being addressed and identifies relationships. There is Jane sitting next to me and then Ms./Mrs. Smith (Jane) trying to teach me how to multiply. “Please,” “Thank you” and “Sorry” are super etiquette words to learn and embed in everyday responses…for children and adults alike. Thank you for the many good reminders!

  2. I would love to be Mrs. G to children everywhere. It was our super-casual society that got rid of that respectful convention… I remember many friends commenting, “Mrs. Fill-in-the-Blank is my mother. Call me Lola.” Such an affirmative post for me.

  3. Thank you for a grounding and thoughtful post. Indeed we all ought to step outside of ourselves to recognize others with politeness and gratitude. Our children will undoubtedly follow.

  4. I wish Mr. Manners would start a nationwide school for children. I am fortunate my daughter has lovely manners and has done an amazing job of instilling them in her children. It is indeed the parents job to teach manners but sadly that isn’t being done as well as it should. Children hear their parents swear, scream, ridicule each other and they parrot that. If children had a class to go to that let them know it could be different and someone were to set a good example it could make a difference in our civility. Bravo Mr. Manners! ~ Gigi

  5. Thank you for posting the interview and thank you to Mr. Manners for your steadfast conviction. Please, Thank you, and Your Welcome acknowledge the kindness extended to us. These simple yet powerful words keep us connected to others and ourselves. Manners are a wonderful way to express gratitude and respect. We all have a great opportunity to keep goodness flowing back and forth to one another. Our words, the written word, using manners are powerful ways to touch another person.

  6. Great article! Mr. Manners really hit it on the head!! Manners, once learned, are something that we carry with us throughout our life. I was taught to address women older that me as “Maam”. Without a second thought, this is something that I still do today. Thank you for sharing!.

  7. And manners are so daily. Once you have them, they are unconscious and they really do make life smoother for everyone. You can transform the world around you being kind and polite to everyone. It might be the one nice thing that happens to them all day! Be the change! ~ Mrs. G. (I love my new name;)

  8. Wow. This is such a breath of fresh air. Thank you, Rana and thank you, Mr. Manners. So much of this is not new and yet I needed to be taken to task for getting a bit sloppy with things like, well, hand-written thank you notes. This was a non-negotiable when I was growing up.

    I love the clarity of your advice, Mr. Manners. There are very few shades of grey. I am glad to know about you and plan to share this link with my friends and family. Gee, do you have a book?!

    As the parent of two young girls, I especially appreciate your suggestion about how to use the poor behavior we observe as a springboard for discussion.

    With my sincere thanks for such a timely and relevant post….

  9. I’m a big fan of Mr. Manners and am happy that you have featured him today. His advice is much needed at present. The themes of being respectful, mindful, and present are all embedded in practicing good manners. Thanks for the great post.

  10. Where to begin…so many lovely comments here! First of all, Rana, thank you for the beautiful interview. You captured our conversation so well…what a treat to be able to share that with your audience.

    To those who are interested, I do offer a school program. The teachers are always surprised at how receptive their students are to learning more about good manners!

    Next up: the asparagus question! : )

  11. And now, to the asparagus!

    For starters, congratulations to any parent who has succeeded in getting his or her child interested in eating asparagus. It’s such a terrific source of vitamin K, anti-oxidants and other essential ingredients.

    As for how it should be consumed, the answer depends on its preparation. When consumed raw, it can be picked up by the fingers, as one would do with uncooked carrot or piece of celery. If the asparagus has been cooked (and is thus soft), it should be cut into small pieces and eaten from a fork.

    The wonderful thing about vegetables that can be eaten as finger food is that for kids, the lack of formality makes the eating (and yes, the crunching!) a whole lot more appealing.

  12. And a wonderful response 🙂 – the first time I ever deeply moodled the mechanics of eating asparagus (perhaps I exaggerate;) was at least 30 years ago when I got my hands on a copy of Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teens. In my military upbringing, we learned to cut the asparagus, which makes sense to me, Mister Manners. Not at Tiffany’s though!

  13. What a great post about good manners. Cultivating good mannered and grateful children does begin at home and at a very early age. If your children witness you treating them and others with respect, and you don’t accept bad manners from them, I believe that is how we lay the foundation for well-mannered, grateful adults. It makes me proud as a parent to hear my young adult children to say thank you and treat others with respect.

  14. Mr. Manners,
    I am so happy to hear your comments. I have two young children and tonight when I tell them about “Mr. Manners,” this is going to be a great starting point for some meaningful conversations. Latita Baldridge was helpful to me during some formative years, but for younger generations, you are more relatable. Have you appeared on Sesame Street yet? If not, I would love to see there!

    Thank you, Mr. Manners for these wonderful tips today. Thank you, Rana for excellent questions.

    Mr. Land

  15. This post should be required reading to every child AND adult! It amazes me that these manners are not common sense in our society.

    Finally I have a definitive answer on proper revolving door manners!

    Terrific post, Mr. Manners! I will share this with my Facebook family.

  16. Awareness of how we effect one another is so important, something we continue to learn about all of our lives. Good manners are the core of that awareness, without grace we’re simply uncivilized. Good manners also add to one’s confidence, something we all hope for our children!
    Thank you for this great interview, LPP.

  17. We are constantly working with our kids on their manners. But alas, they come home and mimic what they see other kids doing. So we have to point bad manners out to them and bring them back to what we expect from them.

  18. Great interview…and such words of wisdom for all of us.
    I particularly liked the comment that we are ignoring our writing skills due to technology! And agree that people DO save handwritten notes/cards all of the time….the best compliments anyone ever gives me are the ones that have to do with something I have written….by hand, on a card…I hope this doesn’t become a lost art!!

  19. This is such an important topic. Thanks, Rana, for doing this interview and thanks, too, to Mr. Manners for such cogent, timely comments. Texting keeps kids (and lots of adults)so buried in their devices that they forget to use common courtesy to people in the same room. But it does start at home, with modeling good behavior and reinforcing it by praising children when they use their manners.

  20. Thanks to everyone for such thoughtful comments and input. Teaching children good manners is one of the most important things a parent can do. From the sounds of it, however, everyone here is already doing a terrific job in that department.

    As for Mr. Land’s suggestion of “Sesame Street,” I have not yet had the opportunity, but I’d love to do a collaboration with the Children’s Television Workshop at some point.

    Thank you again to Rana and LPP, and to all of the commenters as well.. your questions are always most welcome, via my web site,, or via Twitter, @MisterManners.

  21. I have to wonder sometimes, Alex. I occasionally notice a level of hostility and narcissism that makes me wonder if some people aren’t just looking for an argument. But I think that probably goes beyond common sense and normal manners.

  22. Alex is only half right because there also are some very kind people on the road who will wave you on at a difficult spot where you are trying to feed into the traffic and in turn people will wave in acknowledgement when you do the same for someone else.

  23. Also wanted to say that I agree totally with Mr. Manners. Saying Please, Thank you, Sorry and avoiding nasty comments like shut up is so important in showing respect for one another. How we treat others very often comes back to us. Being kind and thoughtful will usually win out in the end. Dinner time should be a great time to share our day and communicate with each other. And in this age of technology putting our devices aside once in a while gives us the opportunity to enjoy each others company. Thanks Rana & Mr. Manners this is a wonderful message for All not only our children.

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