Good etiquette is just a sense, in a matter of speaking

She’s the “empress of etiquette,” the “queen of courtesy” to her legions of readers. She was a protegee of Mrs. Meriwether Post and Mamie Eisenhower, and frequent guest at the White House.

She moved from the nation’s capital to the “hog capital of the world” 37 years ago. Today, Marjabelle Young Stewart reigns over her etiquette empire with books, videos, lectures and interviews with no hint of slowing down. With 21 books to her credit and another formulating in her mind, she is promoting “The Complete Wedding Planner” (St. Martin’s Press, $16.95).

According to Stewart, etiquette books are now outselling cookbooks.

Her message is simple and consistent: Etiquette is a key to clear communication, a protocol for professional success, a tool for a happy and productive life. “Etiquette can take you where you want to go faster than a speeding BMW,” she said. “Good manners take you places money can’t.”

Etiquette is also the common-sense nuts and bolts of life.

“Don’t end up at the wedding with a wad of soggy, wet Kleenex. Be sure to take a lace-edged hankie,” she admonishes.

Stewart said her knowledge of etiquette started with on-the-job training.

“I went from a 17-year-old girl in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to the wife of an international scientist in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “I became a ‘sipper.’ I’d sip my drink and look over and see what fork or spoon others at the table were using. It was on-the-job training at the highest level.”

Mellowed by decades of weddings, state dinners and formal entertaining, Stewart now says the ultimate goal of etiquette is to make others feel comfortable.

She recalled a White House dinner with then-President George H.W. Bush, father of the current president, and his guests from Asia, where the custom is to serve a clear broth at the end of the meal. When White House staff served finger bowls at the end of the meal, guests were startled to see the Asian diplomats pick up the finger bowls and drink the contents.

Without hesitation, Bush picked up his finger bowl and toasted his American guests, indicating they should follow suit. Everyone at the table drank the contents of their finger bowls.

“That is etiquette,” said Stewart. “Etiquette is knowledge, not to criticize others with or to put on airs, but to make you a finer person. Use etiquette to make your family and friends, acquaintances and colleagues feel like royalty.”