by Carol A Westbrook
Did you give any Christmas presents this year? Or Hanukkah or birthday presents? Did the lucky recipients send you note by post, email, text, or at least a phone call? No? Well where, then, are their manners!
Yes, where, actually, are their manners?
It is true that our lifestyles have changed considerably since the days that the etiquette books were written. Many of the old rules are no longer relevant, while there are many new circumstances that Emily Post did not consider: cell phones, social media, gender equality, unconventional marriages, to name a few. This does not mean you have a license to ignore all of the etiquette rules that your parents taught you.
The rules of common courtesy make it possible for us to live together in harmony, without misunderstanding, insult, or hurt. These rules are there for a reason: to allow us be kind and polite to everyone without having to think about it–even if we can't stand them. As every etiquette book will tell you, if you are uncertain what is proper, then use common sense, treating everyone with kindness and respect.
Forgetting to say "thank you" is just one of example social rules that people break without thinking. There are many others that are especially important in getting along in today's society, and many which particularly vex me. I began to compile a list, which began to sound like Ko-Ko's song in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Mikado,
"I've got a little list
Of society offenders
Who might well be underground
And who never would be missed"
Rather then sending this list to the Lord High Executioner, I will share it with you.
1. My list begins with the thank-you note neglectors.
A handwritten card sent by mail is the "rule," but an email, text, or even a phone call is acceptable these days. In particular, if you received a gift or check by mail, the sender would like to know that it arrived safely.
2. People who bring their rowdy children to restaurants or other public spaces, and don't control them.
Nowadays it's okay to bring children along, and many restaurants will accommodate with high chairs and boosters. But it's not okay to inflict them on the other restaurant patrons. Children don't usually have the insight to imagine how other people may be feeling, but even a three-year-old can be taught that you can't run around and scream in public spaces. If you can't control the kids, then get a sitter or eat at home, please.
3. People who inflict their views on others.
I still feel the old rules apply as to what subjects to avoid in polite conversation– politics, sex, and religion. To this I will add a fourth: your medical ailments. Sadly, I have lost good friends over political disagreements during dinnertime conversation–not to mention many Facebook friends. (Facebook etiquette is another issue). And those details of your recent operation may fascinate you, but will make your dining partners squirm and lose their appetite.
4. People who use can't put down their cell phones.
When they were first introduced, cell phones were prohibited at many restaurants and clubs. Today they are tolerated for good reason — an occasional glance to check in with your babysitter, to take an emergency call from a patient, or to check in with your teenager is perfectly acceptable today.
But excessive mobile use, loud personal calls, or texting continuously during conversation, all convey the message that the person with you is of less importance than your phone partner. Hurt feelings will invariably result–unless the other person is doing the same, at which time you might very well ask, "are we having lunch together, or merely dining alone at the same table?"
5. People who don't hold doors open for women and men who need assistance.
Appropriate manners toward women are an evolving issue in modern etiquette books. Victorian mores considered women to be "the weaker sex," who deserve special treatment. Open her door, tip your hat, pull out her chair, carry her packages, pay for everything, etc. But since the '60's, we women have been working hard to show that we are not weaker, and the old rules are now in question.
Some people still feel strongly that the old ways should still hold, whereas others feel women should do everything for themselves. In fact, I've met men who believe they will insult a woman if they hold a door open, and women who will scowl and refuse to enter an open door. Where is the middle ground? The answer is to do what the situation demands, be as polite as you can, and let it pass.
Remember that the purpose of manners is to help us live together in harmony by avoiding misunderstanding, insult or hurt. And this is a good time to take a break to wish YOU Harmony and Joy for the holiday season, and Peace in the New Year.