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Talk This Way: A Modern Manners Guide

by Marshall Heyman, The Wall Street Journal, November 2013.

Liv Tyler Teams Up With Grandmother Dorothea Johnson

As the daughter of a famously irreverent rock star, Liv Tyler may be a strange person to co-author a book on decorum. "My family is known for being a little more rock 'n' roll than Rockefeller," writes Ms. Tyler in the forward to "Modern Manners: Tools to Take You to the Top," published late last month by Potter Style.

But as it turns out, Ms. Tyler's maternal grandmother, Dorothea Johnson, founded the Protocol School of Washington and has authored or co-authored such books as "The Little Book of Etiquette," "Tea and Etiquette," "Children's Tea and Etiquette: Brewing Good Manners in Young Minds," "The Power of Handshaking" and "101 Ways to Say Thank You."

"I lived with her from the ages of 6 to 9," Ms. Tyler, who lives in Manhattan, recalled of Ms. Johnson. "And that was a really important time in my life. I see it now with my son, Milo. It's when you're developing basic table manners. It had such a big impact on who I am as a woman today."

Ms. Johnson, who lives in Maine, had an idea for a "Do this, don't do that kind of book," she said, describing it as a "simple guide for the young professional," many of whom, she felt, were having trouble being successful in the digital age. At first Ms. Tyler was only going to write the forward,
"but we started coming up with ideas and I got obsessed with the whole process. We had a common thread between us, but we also had a generational difference."

Ms. Tyler also took it upon herself to work on the design of the book and its illustrations. "Modern Manners" mostly consists of Ms. Johnson's advice on how to be polite at parties, how to appropriately respond to emails and how to be both a good guest and a host. Occasionally, Ms. Tyler chimes in and applies the tips to her own life. One of her pet peeves, for instance, is "bad breath" when she runs into people out and about at events. Ms. Tyler and Ms. Johnson insist the book is not about getting everything right or perfect, but rather about basic common courtesy. "If you learn these few things, you will have more confidence in your life," said Ms. Johnson. "It has a chain reaction."

Ms. Johnson explained that she's always been interested in the area of etiquette, ever since she was a young girl. "I would read etiquette books the way my friends would read romances," she recalled. "Even in school, I was the No. 1 student in home economics. I loved to set the table. I loved putting flowers in a vase." She worked for years as an interior designer and eventually moved into the area of professional etiquette.

"If one is courteous and kind, I think they can get away with a lot of things," Ms. Johnson said. "It's not about putting on airs or being stiff, it's about holding your own. That's what sets you off from the pack."
"People used to say, 'Goodness, what a firm handshake you have,'" Ms. Tyler recalled of one of her grandmother's many influences. "I'm around so many amazing personalities of all different walks of life. I always notice the people who are the most memorable, the ones who look at you in the eye and listen."

However, etiquette in the movie business
"is still a bit of a mystery," Ms. Tyler said. Agents, she explained "have their own protocol I don't totally understand." But in general, Ms. Tyler believes the foundation of manners in her life has played a role in her success. "We think we know so much, but my whole life my grandmother's been giving me such incredible advice. Five years after she's suggested something to me, I realize what she meant. It's amazing how a lot of the things I've learned from her are very true."