Traditionally, girls were taught to curtsy and boys were taught to bow. I realize that I’m showing my age, but I wonder how many of my readers remember being taught that point of etiquette at school.
In my fourth grade class, one hour each day for six weeks or maybe it was an entire semester, we were given lessons in civility, social behavior, and good manners. This took place in 1960.
Are children taught civility and manners anymore? Did today’s celebrities and politicians not receive etiquette training during their youth? Then again, perhaps most people do practice good manners, but we notice only the most blatant examples of bad behavior.
Perhaps some folks believe that etiquette is only reserved for special events or is an elite practice. Maybe it is thought that etiquette only involves dressing up and knowing ones way around a formal place setting at dinner. At all other times, are we free to discard civility?
My point of view is that of a male in contemporary American society. I hope to refresh myself and my fellow American men who might need a gentle refresher about civility. Ladies might also enjoy some of these thoughts.
We don’t need to dress up for a state dinner in order to practice good manners. We know that it is polite to assist a date or guest with a chair; not to place elbows on the table; not to talk with ones mouth full; nor is it good form to talk/text on the phone nor to take photographs of our food, at mealtimes. A gentleman knows to bathe, groom, and dress appropriately for dates and events.
Of course, etiquette isn’t restricted to dining. We open doors for women, elders and people who are carrying packages. We don’t cut in line; we say “please” and “thank you”; and we don’t talk so loud as to distract other people. I haven’t recently seen anyone bow or curtsy in real life, but the art of the handshake is practiced to our great advantage.
We don’t need to resort to stiff, Victorian social rules nor practice outdated behavior that now seems sexist. However, it is in our best interest to be self-aware of ways in which we have become a bit rusty in the etiquette department. I posit that a real man isn’t a behavioral slob nor an overbearing brute. A sign of true masculinity is gentlemanly behavior.
The men I most respect are those who show respect and consideration for all others, with no exceptions. Real men pay attention to others by asking open-ended questions. They resist telling or laughing at off-color jokes. A gentleman doesn’t make comments or jokes that denigrate women or minorities. A real man offers courtesy and assistance to strangers in need. A real man knows the importance of learning and practicing respectful behavior according to cultural contexts.
A man who skillfully displays courtesy and event-appropriate grooming and clothing choices isn’t only practicing basic social lubrication, he will find himself well-liked and well-remembered. He might also have an edge in his career. Habitual good etiquette is the art of putting other people at ease. Gentlemanly behavior is the right thing to do regardless of ethnic or income level backgrounds.
Some people might dismiss my concerns about etiquette as preachy, uptight, stuffy, or effete. However, we must remember that other people will judge us based upon the way we eat, how appropriately we dress, if we cover the mouth when we cough or sneeze, or if we are otherwise crude. We might disagree with judgemental people, but the fact is, every single one of us reflexively judges others, anyway.
The man or woman who lacks skills in etiquette makes other people uncomfortable. Today’s etiquette shortage ultimately costs us as individuals and society as a whole.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a statement by Miss Manners, Judith Martin. “‘Honesty’ in social life is often used as a cover for rudeness. But there is quite a difference between being candid in what you’re talking about, and people voicing their insulting opinions under the guise of honesty.”