Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Matters Most About Manners?

It appears there's some confusion about manners. Not only do people debate what are or are not "Good Manners," they do so imprecisely. I cannot bear imprecise arguments. When one fails to define one's terms, passionate discussions lead directly into a boggy swamp of opinions. No one advances beyond their own reactions.

Let us then deconstruct "Manners," with an eye towards understanding what, if anything, matters.

I believe that most people want to have good manners. Of course, in the interest of precision, we must acknowledge that not everyone feels this way. Some are too overwhelmed by distress, or lack of resources. All their capacity absorbed by coping. Others actively rebel against manners in the traditional sense, looking for a new mode of interaction.

So let's speak to those who care.

Manners are the term for an aspect of human behavior along the spectrum of Good to Bad. And yes, that means we're in for a diagram.

The left hand side of this spectrum spans cultures. Few societies admire murder. The right hand side, however, is more complex. Right about the point where Nice and Kind enter the picture, Manners rears its well-groomed head. And here's where deconstruction tells.

Manners consist of Protocol and Common Human Courtesy. These are not the same thing.

Common Human Courtesy
  • Put the elderly, the pregnant, the handicapped, ahead of you.
  • Greet those you meet with warmth, or respect, or both.
  • Calibrate your clothing to your context.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Greeting mechanism (handshake, air kiss).
  • Table manners (fork left hand, fork left hand, banana leaves).
  • Thank you mechanisms (handwritten notes, elaborately wrapped cheap presents, phone calls).
  • What To Wear Beyond Aesthetics (no white after Labor Day, no short skirts after 40, business casual, mother of the bride).
I believe that everyone would agree, Common Human Courtesy takes us further along the Bad to Good spectrum than anything else.

The debate about manners usually revolves around Protocol.

Here's the tricky part. Protocol originates as a way to establish and maintain hierarchies, not as a way to be nice to anyone. Protocol ensures we all stick to our roles, that we acknowledge and bow our heads to societal expectations. As a result people often point out Protocol violations in order to maintain a structure that reinforces their own desire for a formal, hierarchical world. These are false accusation of Bad Manners, and should be ignored as such.

Protocol also ranges from incomprehensible ritual to generally accepted cultural actions. It varies from environment to environment. What happens in an embassy stays in an embassy. What happens in Poland doesn't often happen in Chicago. Here Jenna of That Wife details her discomfort with the European 3-kiss, for example.

Does that mean you can forget Protocol on the path to Good? Throw it all out the window as an outmoded artifact of a pre-Freudian, repressed, colonial era? Is life that simple? Unfortunately, no. When understood and agreed to by all participants, Protocol does simplify difficult interactions. There's something to be said for simplifying. Being human is tough.

Even beyond simplification, there are those who feel Protocol ensures their safety, smooths their way, and signifies that all is well in the world. It's their "Fuffy," if you will. And when you ignore Protocol you cause them distress. They may then take the position that you are definitively In The Wrong. You're not, in a moral sense. Protocol is situational. But if you willfully flout Protocol, you may upset someone. Just make sure it's a conscious choice on your part. One that's worth distress in others.

I call it the "Because Grandmama Cares" approach. I have evolved into this late in life. As a young woman I chafed against the strictures of protocol, all the while absorbing the entire How To from my family background. I believed that much protocol was evil, designed only to shame us and deny us our hearts. That may in fact be true. But at the next level, sometimes determined flouting of protocol becomes inconsiderate, failing at Common Human Courtesy. Which is, of course, the most important part of Good Manners.

The Privilege[d] Manifesto on Good Manners
  • Common Human Courtesy matters most, but doesn't suffice for Good Manners.
  • Blind adherence to Protocol isn't enough either.
  • Some rules are downright dumb, not to mention vestiges of a society invested in hierarchy and brutal power structures.
  • Yet human beings do better under shared behavior codes.
  • The question is what protocols to follow, and why? Each of us must make our own choices. Each of us should try to respect the choices of others. Even choices we don't like. I personally have trouble with eyebrow piercing. I keep it to myself when in the supermarket checkout line at Whole Foods.
  • When you next want to accuse someone of Bad Manners, stop, and consider whether they are violating Protocol or failing Common Human Courtesy.
One final thought. Saints are apt to ignore protocol. Think about it. St. Patrick wasn't terribly well-behaved when he sent away all those snakes, now was he? St. Joan certainly didn't speak politely to those in authority.

What part of manners do you pay the most attention to?



Blogger James said...

Could not possibly agree more.Well stated.

November 4, 2010 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Olivia said...

Fantastic post! And like James said, well stated.

November 4, 2010 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger Deja Pseu said...

This is absolutely brilliant. Venn diagrams make my heart go pitty pat. I agree that certain protocols are the grease of human interactions, making things go smoothly. But kindness is the most important thing, and as you've said, sometimes kindness dictates that we observe protocols that are meaningless. To my list of kindnesses, I always make a point to hold the door for the person behind me. I'll confess I do get irked when someone in front of me just lets the door close in my face. Didn't your mother teach you any manners?

November 4, 2010 at 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Growing up in LA, there is such a mish-mash of cultures, you really can't hold anyone to protocol. Every culture has their own things. Asians don't like to open gifts in front of the gift-giver. It's considered rude, but when I went to birthday parties, most of the time we opened the gifts because that's what we do in the US. It must have killed some of my friend's mothers to do it, but they did it.

I think my grandmother, a grand dame if there ever was one, would have fainted dead away if some one tried to kiss her three times.

So, I guess what I am long-windedly trying to say, is that I was raised to believe the most important thing is Common Human Courtesy.

Protocol kinda strikes me as a U/non-U kind of thing. I rather hate things like that, because you can't pick your family, but you can choose to act like a nice person or a jerk.

Common Human Decency FTW!

November 4, 2010 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Muffy said...

I agree with Anonymous in LA. LA is a mish mash of cultures trying to grasp on to what is left of their own ancestry while attempting to move forward at the same time. Very confusing to all.

#1) Can't believe you made a diagram. Amazing.
#2) As Anon said, "Common Human Decency FTW!"
#3) I just learned this week "FTW" means "For the win". In case you too were in the dark.
#4) You are correct on all accounts.

Lovely post, as always!

November 4, 2010 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger lauren said...

our meeting next week would've been much funnier if i still had my eyebrow pierced.

November 4, 2010 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Lori said...

These things of protocol that you wrote about reminds me of the rare times that we spent at the home of some of my wealthy relatives. The way they ate was completely different from the way we ate, dressed, acted...ect..I thought they were extremely rude and inpolite people yet they followed these protocols that made us feel less than them and made sure we knew how important and wealthy they are. They thought they were much better then us country farm kids. It is not that we were not required to have manners at the dinner table or else where, it's that our manners were so different from theirs...and we were required to be polite no matter how we were treated in their homes. Thankfully we were not put in that position very often.

I expect absolute manners, politeness and respect from my children, in and out of our home. On the rare occasions that we do eat out, we have numerous people compliment our little's on how well mannered they are. The thing is, our little's know without a doubt that if they acted otherwise we would walk out. They love eating out too much to have that happen. :)

Great post! Happy Thursday!

November 4, 2010 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Patsy said...

Common Human Courtesy = The Golden Rule in our house growing up and in my house now.

I still hear in my head (and say to myself) "How would you feel if________?"

I think if you are unsure of protocol and it makes you uncomfy, the best way to deal with it is head on! People love to talk about their culture and themselves. Unless it's like a ritual suicide or virgin sacrifice or eyebrow piercing or something.

November 4, 2010 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger Hill House Ramblings said...

I'm going to print this up for my son to read someday (he's only five years old at the moment). Incredible post.

In our house we are stressing manners. The usual suspects, such as please and thank you, asking if anyone would like the last slice of pizza before lunging for it...but more importantly, to be kind and respectful to others...If he can grasp the latter then the former should naturally follow. Or one would hope.

The diagram is a hoot!


November 4, 2010 at 11:00 AM  
Blogger Susan Tiner said...

When in Rome... I try to be kind first and foremost, and flexible. "I personally have trouble with eyebrow piercing. I keep it to myself when in the supermarket checkout line at Whole Foods." Me too! I don't feel obligated to do everything others do for the sake of kindness and manners, but I try not to make a statement, and if at all possible, I go with the flow.

November 4, 2010 at 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Valerie said...

Thank you so much for today's post. As the director of a study abroad program, I find many students know little about or perhaps, more accurately, have little experience with Common Human Courtesy as sad as that may seem.

Before moving into local protocals and thus local cultural norms, I must first spend time explaining and modeling CHC. One of the hardest is convincing students to greet people upon arrival AND to say good-bye as they prepare to leave.

I also plan to make liberal use of "Calibrate your clothing to your context" with my next group. Maybe such a concise phrase will click with the majority of female students who arrive with suitcases full of tank tops, Daisy Duke shorts and flip flops in spite of having received clothing guidelines/packing lists and photos of previous students in a variety of situations including clubbing, internships, classes, rural vs. city vs. immediate neighborhood settings, climbing pyramids and caving. As one student said this semester as she headed out to buy clothes that fit within the context of the culture, "I realize now I packed for four months of spring break in Cancun."

November 4, 2010 at 11:28 AM  
Anonymous Jan said...

Ah, I wondered why "protocol" declined around "sainthood" on your chart...

Common human courtesy will win out with me over protocol any day of the week. And your statement about eyebrow piercing made me laugh - I don't much care for gauged earrings, especially on young men, or prominent tattoos over most visible parts of a young body, but almost always refrain from telling the person doing it to themselves how much they're going to regret that in 20 years.

November 4, 2010 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger minerrva said...

What everyone else said, plus this is a really awesome interpretation of all Jane Austen novels.

November 4, 2010 at 11:50 AM  
Blogger legend in his own lunchtime said...

Getting and giving a please and/or a thank you goes a long way. I'm in New York at the moment and they are noticable by their absence.

November 4, 2010 at 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Gourmetmom said...

What an interesting topic! More examples, please! Many people do mistake protocol for manners, but I always place kindness above protocol. I suppose courtesy has its roots in kindness. Some of the "classiest" people I've met along the way have little understanding of elaborate protocol, yet their warmth and inherent goodness seem to elevate them. And protocol without kindness can actually be downright rude. Perhaps manners (including protocol and courtesy) are at one end of a continuum and goodness is at the other. Where would the perfect balance be? In the middle? Somewhere a bit closer to goodness? I need a diagram...

November 4, 2010 at 1:03 PM  
Blogger Duchesse said...

If someone does not follow Protocol, the effect on me (who appreciates most protocol) depends on whether that's because of choice- they do not value or wish to comply with these customs- or ignorance. I suspect, for example, if I were entertained in Japan, I would unknowingly commit breaches of Protocol.

Unremitting courtesy and enough Protocol to please Gran enables a graceful navigation through life. The third dimension I'd add to your diagram is humour. With humour, the saint is human, the average person interesting and the jerk sometimes a trickster.

November 4, 2010 at 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What part of manners do you pay the most attention to?"

You asked a good question as you signed off. I'm afraid to confess, but I rely more on a repertoire of Humor, Charm and Reserve more than Manners or Protocol. I think it's my particular twist on the neat idiom you coined, "calibrate your clothes to context," so with one or two basics [look people directly in the eye, listen more than talk, no showing off], I've somehow managed [I think] to calibrate my personality to context. I've somehow gotten through the highest level of performance [always a pleasure to recall], and the lowest [oh God, I just reminded myself of the day I met my husband's ex wife ..... ohhhhh].

This was a delightful essay to read and think about, thank you.

November 4, 2010 at 2:32 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Hammond Pyle said...

Definitely in the common human courtesy camp, and slightly alarmed to read that one can't wear a short skirt after 40, as I am approaching that speed bump. A bit of protocol about which I knew nothing? Wouldn't be the first.

November 4, 2010 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger mise said...

I think it was Margaret Mead who said that manners are a way of dealing with people you don't agree with or like. If that were true, I guess I would have no need of manners in this comment box.

You make a good and useful distinction. I have a month and a half left in which to wear short skirts. Must dash.

November 4, 2010 at 2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work in academia and frequently observe protocol in meetings that involve interaction between administrators, faculty, and staff. Different "codes" of behavior appear to exist for each group and the "rules" are not written down any where.

I am a faculty member and have been privy to MANY rants about students' use of cell phones in class, but today I passed by three colleagues who did not take the time to greet me because THEY were preoccupied with their cell phones en route from one class to another. One in fact, was speaking German.

In some cases, people would observe protocol IF they were made aware of it. I frequently have to explain to students that phrases like "pissed off" and "that sucks" are NOT standard English. This information is a revelation to them.

November 4, 2010 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Miss Janey said...

Miss J is laughing and at the same time, leaping for joy. GREAT post!!! She tries to pay most attention to common human courtesy, though when pushed she will push a bitch right back. Good manners are important, and of course, environmental. Protocol matters in the workplace. At least in Miss J's.

November 4, 2010 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger RoseAG said...

It's always been my feeling that New Yorkers are reasonably civil and Bostonians abrupt.

November 4, 2010 at 4:47 PM  
Anonymous rb said...

re: your last bullet
People who accuse others of having bad manners are demonstrating a lack of manners themselves. But in my experience the irony of this is inevitably lost on them.

November 4, 2010 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger Bumby Scott said...

To answer the question as posed, What part do I pay the most attention to ? In true WASP style I must say:
Protocol is King, Common sense is Queen
Common Courtesy and Manners are the court.
All are taught and learned from day one. However, my personal preference is common sense, then common courtesy followed by manners with protocol bringing up the rear, all tempered with a bit of fun and keeping in mind every person on this planet belches :)

November 4, 2010 at 9:43 PM  
Blogger A Farmer's Wife said...

I live in rural Australia. Manners tend to be quite old fashioned here. People are generally polite and respectful which I think is important. I often wonder if that is due to the size of our community. It is hard to be rude to someone in a small country town when you know you will have to see them on a daily basis for the next 20 years.

November 4, 2010 at 11:08 PM  
Blogger Linda in Chile said...

Dear LPC, Living overseas as I do, getting the protocol right is very important as to do otherwise may cause offence. In Mauritius, one's guests are likely to be both Muslims and Hindus so it would be quite awful to put either beef or God Forbid any pork products on a buffet 'because people can pick and choose' - yet I saw it all the time. In Chile, one is kissed on one cheek by everyone at a cocktail party on the way in and on the way out. I think that these are the easy things to work through. Showing consideration for the people around you, expressing appreciation for services rendered and sometimes throwing away the 'rules' to make your guests feel at home are for me the most important aspects of good manners. In this respect, I agree with Gourmetmom - kindness forms the basis of these interactions. In terms of the manners I pay most attention to, like Ms FF, I quite like the thank you note.

November 5, 2010 at 12:50 AM  
Blogger Genuine Lustre said...

I think of protocol as being the framework and courtesy as the comfy cushions.

Was recently riding a shuttle bus in VA and was AGHAST at the healthy middle-aged men who tried to look busy as grandmothers with walkers or canes stood in the aisle.

November 5, 2010 at 5:18 AM  
Blogger metscan said...

I think that it is wise to know the protocol, at least in general. Manners reveal your intelligence ( I am not referring to one´s position in the society ).

November 5, 2010 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger Beth Dunn said...

I've always leaned towards kindness as the most important. I've never seen "manners" broken down like that before, great post. I think protocol gives us security in social situations.

November 5, 2010 at 12:44 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

Wonderful post, Lisa.

The part of human manners that I pay most attention to is common human courtesy. In my idealistic conceptual world, that's all there is. I've long felt that I was missing something, and your post has shown me precisely what. Protocol. Culturally-dependent. I get this now, and I can see why it matters.

I was raised in a small nuclear family where my family's protocol was everything. This didn't always match the protocol in other situations, and I was often slightly disoriented without quite knowing why. I learned the family protocol well, and it's still stored within me at a very basic level.

As soon as I learned how to make my own choices I sidestepped protocol, which often confused me, in favour of common human courtesy, which made sense to me and which I craved. In later years I tried to take this courtesy back home, but the bits that didn't fit the family protocol were not understood. I keep taking it back anyway. I don't think it hurts.

On your diagram I tend to veer between sainthood and near-criminality, depending on my mood, and your post explains so clearly why some people can find me scary sometimes. In many situations protocol is more comfortable than naked common human courtesy, and I had not taken sufficient account of that.

Your post has given me a good reason to persevere with protocol, and you have explained something important about myself to me. Thank you so much.

(I edited out the "thank you from the bottom of my heart" which I started out by saying at the top of this coment. Just in case it was too scary.)

November 5, 2010 at 2:23 PM  
Blogger Splurgie said...

I was never able to rely on "Didn't your mother teach you better?" because she passed when I was very young. As a young person I read etiquette books to learn "the rules," lest I embarrass myself in public. I wanted to know how to eat soup, what fork to use, etc. Some of my acquaintances with mothers could use a lesson or two! They won't get the lesson from me unless they ask for it (they won't.) It's all about putting others at ease.

November 5, 2010 at 6:10 PM  
Blogger Mardel said...

I appreciate protocol having it ingrained in me from infancy and would probably prefer some adherence to protocol. I try to approach the world with humor and common courtesy though and realize that protocol is not the same world-wide. The lack of protocol only really bothers me when it shows utter disregard for others or utter self-absorption.

I will admit though that the protocol violations that bother me the most seem to often revolve around food and the table, although I usually keep my opinions to myself.

Oh, and brilliant post, by the way.

November 5, 2010 at 6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Listen to Dr. Laura Schlesinger, and see how she makes everyone who calls in look bad and , probably, feel terrible. Do the opposite. Make others feel good and comfortable even if they drink the fingerbowl and spit it out on the peonies.

November 5, 2010 at 9:47 PM  
Blogger Shelley said...

Great post. Basic human courtesy is of course the most important to getting along with one another. After that, I try to conform with enough protocol (if I know it) so as not to make others around me uncomfortable. It's also useful to know how to act in difficult circumstances - meeting the first wife at a wedding for example. I've touched on this briefly here:
and here:
(Warning, pierced eyebrow pictured. I don't think of piercings and tatooes as bad manners but as rebellious statements - It's my body and I'll mutilate it if I want.) They'll grow up eventually.

November 6, 2010 at 4:34 AM  
Blogger Miss Whistle said...

"Manners maketh man" -- Thomas of Wykeham

November 6, 2010 at 7:24 AM  
Blogger Miss Whistle said...

LPC, you've inspired me to do my own manners post. I hope you don't mind. It's such a bee in my bonnet.

-- Miss W xx

November 6, 2010 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

James - Thank you so much.

Olivia - Thank you. And for reposting my diagram on your blog. Very much appreciated.

Deja - Thank you. Am quite honored at the pitty pat. I like the idea of kindnesses, because they can be actions rather than a grand principle. Door opening is great.

Anon - U/nonU, exactly. Once again our cousins across the pond bring that linguistic punch. I believe I might have to make common human decency for the win into a t-shirt.

Muffy - Thank you. Los Angeles is a real melting pot. In fact all of California is. Maybe my life here is what has given me this particular perspective.

lauren - We will simply have to generate humor with clown's noses instead.

November 6, 2010 at 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's days later now and I'm still gnawing on this manners bone. I have loved the comments, too. I wanted to add another footnote re your kindness in highlighting those souls who, temporarily burdened with coping overload, display wretched behavior. Haven't we all been there, I know I have, and I liked that you implied a pass for those under duress. That was my favorite part of the bone. Speaking of marrow, the ability to perform sociably was bred early and deep in me, with the three of us siblings there was an egalitarian component ["If you can't speak to the yardman the same way you speak to the museum board, then don't speak."] which is probably why I was so taken by the professor's mercy for sufferers. Thank you for a great chew!

November 6, 2010 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

Lori - Your relatives sound like terribly ill-mannered people to me. They were family, after all. And setting up situations where your kids learn the rewards of good manners is absolutely the right way to do it, in my opinion.

Patsy - On the other hand Virgin Suicides won ALL kinds of prizes:).

Hill House - Thank you. Sharing something with one's children is the greatest accolade. Kind and respectful turn out to be different things, in my experience, and as you point out both are critical. Glad to amuse with the diagram.

Susan - In my experience you are remarkably gracious.

Valerie - Oh my gosh! One of the great Privilege[d] comments of ALL TIME! Spring breaks are wonderful, but not always appropriate:).

Jan - A woman after my own heart. That's what I would have noticed right off too:).

November 6, 2010 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

minerrva - Thank you. She is perhaps the best interpreter of social anxiety and comedy in the world, right? At least the Western world.

legend - I will be in NYC next week, and I will try to overload my conversation with pleases to compensate.

Gourmetmom - Ha! I will work on Fig. 2:).

Duchesse - Oh humor is so wonderful it deserves its own pie chart altogether. The only thing is that humor is also cultural. Which brings up the concurrent need in all this for Tolerance and Forebearance....

Flo - You are very welcome. Charm and Reserve are rare jewels indeed, given to only the lucky few. And your rule about listening more than talking is one I often have to remind myself of.

Elizabeth - Sometimes protocol be damned.

November 6, 2010 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

Mise - Dash. And I like the Mead comment quite a lot.

Terri - Oh academics is a tricky, tricky field. Often you have to pretend that there is no code, no politics. That one is only after The Truth, and not subject to the usual distresses of mortals.

Miss J - The workplace is a veritable hotbed of protocol. That's because of the hierarchical authority structure.

RoseAG - I haven't been to Boston in donkey's ages. I wonder.

rb - A sense of often accompanies the capability for good manners, IMO.

Bumby - I will debate you until the ends of the earth that true WASPs have Protocol as King, but will defend your right to say it as well:).

November 6, 2010 at 10:32 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

A Farmer's Wife - I am sure you are right. And also, if you can't figure out the shared protocol in a small town, you're not going to be one to whom manners come naturally.

Linda in Chile - Taking this thinking globally requires a good deal of focus. I agree.

Geninue Lustre - I like your metaphor but am also aghast that people in midlife, of any gender, wouldn't stand for someone in a walk, of any gender.

Mette - I suppose that's where I would debate you. Why are manners a sign of intelligence? One can learn these rote behaviours without analysis.

Beth - I think you are so right about protocol giving security in social situations, but I do believe it's also about keeping people in their places when they don't want to stay there.

November 6, 2010 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

Pam - Your comment moved me. You also have me thinking. I wonder if when very sensitive types, ones without a lot of barriers between themselves and the world, come from families with high degrees of protocol, if it's harder for these people to find their way through society. One does, as you say, veer between extremes, unable to quite find a set of "manners" that feels both authentic and sustainable. I am not scared at all by the bottom of your heart.

Splurgie - Oh, what a poignant image. I appreciate your native courtesy.

Mardel - Thank you. As I read over these comments, I realize that the protocol hot button in my family, no surprise, was clothing. We tolerated slurping far more easily than tacky outfits.

Anon - Ha! True grace. Damn the peonies.

Shelley - Thanks for the links. I look forward to the reads.

Miss Whistle - Your post, here,, for anyone reading these comments and caring, is a lovely chapter in the canon.

Flo - My pleasure. I think the first time I truly owned the idea of giving those under duress a pass was when I had my babies and took them to the supermarket:). That said, I do not believe my mother has ever in her life spoken to anyone "below" her in class in any way other than she speaks to those who might be considered her "equal." Thank you for coming back, thank you for reading all the comments.

November 6, 2010 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger Class factotum said...

I frequently have to explain to students that phrases like "pissed off" and "that sucks" are NOT standard English. This information is a revelation to them.

I had to explain to my friends' 29 year old daughter that no, everybody does not call everybody "dude" and that if she was uncomfortable calling me "Class" she could call me "Ms Factotum."

I wanted to gently correct the young woman who was working at the polls with me last week that it was not appropriate for her to call everyone by the first name - that she should address older people she does not know by "Mr" or "Ms." But that would have been bad manners on my part, I suppose. Still. Clueless.

November 6, 2010 at 12:27 PM  
Anonymous Leah McClellan said...

Lisa, This is great. I enjoyed reading every word and nodded right along. Thanks.

November 6, 2010 at 3:44 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

Thank you so much for your response to my comment, Lisa. In order: thank you, yes, and thank you.

"I believe I might have to make common human decency for the win into a t-shirt."

If you're makin' those t-shirts to sell, I'm buyin'!

November 7, 2010 at 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

Several people have described times that they were made to feel uncomfortable for not having the "right" manners. (Which of course meant "protocol".) To me, this is a huge violation of common human decency.

If a guest uses the "wrong" fork for the salad, it's plain rude to point it out to them. If you don't like the face piercings, but it's not causing a health or safety issue, there's no reason to express your displeasure except to make yourself feel superior. Or make them feel worse, which amounts to the same thing.

I'm not saying you would do this, LPC. But I see it all the time, particularly from a few family members who shall remain nameless.

November 8, 2010 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Duchesse said...

Drew, I would like to say, IMO: no one "makes you feel" uncomfortable or anything else (happy, bored, excited); they are the dynamite but you hold the detonator.

If I believe someone "makes me feel", I'm putting my keys in their pocket.

November 8, 2010 at 11:17 AM  
Anonymous Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

Duchesse, you're right, of course. But I was thinking of this comment from Lori:

I thought they were extremely rude and impolite people yet they followed these protocols that made us feel less than them and made sure we knew how important and wealthy they are.

If you care about someone enough to spend time eating with them, it's hard to not care about what they think about you.

November 8, 2010 at 2:52 PM  
Anonymous List of Good Manners said...

Whenever you meet someone, greet him with a smiling face. Express your sentiments of felicity.
Put on a clean dress when you go to call on someone; do not go out in dirty dress nor wear expensive garments while going to visit someone in order to impress him with your costly dress.

November 8, 2010 at 8:41 PM  
Blogger ChickenFreak said...

I believe that Judith Martin (Miss Manners) would stand up for etiquette and many of the customs that you would classify under protocol, but would not agree that it's appropriate for them to _ever_ be used to maintain hierarchies of social or economic class.

That is not to say that there are never hierarchies, but they're shifting situational hierarchies, such as the customer/server relationship. When the medical doctor is shopping, he's the served and the checkout clerk is the server. When the checkout clerk gets the flu and goes to the doctor's office, she's the served and the doctor is the server, and he owes her just as much respect and deference as she owed him in the store. (Including, yes, her being Mrs. Smith, not Jane.)

I would argue that most of the time, when etiquette is used as a club to keep someone in their place, it can be found on examination to not actually be correct etiquette. As just one example, the "your gift should cover the cost of your plate at the wedding" rule, which would put poorer guests at a disadvantage, is utterly incorrect. According to proper etiquette, gifts are given based on the means of the giver, not the recipient.

November 8, 2010 at 10:45 PM  
Blogger Duchesse said...

Where I am now struggling is in the area of Good Manners, which (I was brought up with) always making a guest feel at ease, welcome and respected. But I have had a guest at dinner who who announced (once seated at the table, NOT when invited, and asked about diet) that she "cannot eat" eat the main course, or inquire if the fish was organic. I would like to say, "Perhaps next time we should meet at a restaurant", but then hear my mother in my head saying, "That's not Good Manners".

If someone behaves boorishly, I would like tell him or her (with no name calling, and in private), that the behaviour has not contributed to the auspicity of the occasion. Sometimes under the guise of WASP reticence, one becomes a collaborator in this sinkhole of civility.

IRL, I say nothing- and such guests do not receive another invitation.

September 15, 2012 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger columnist said...

Thank you for writing this so eloquently. Although I have observed "protocol" throughout my life, my concept of good manners is based on putting other people at their ease. This should come naturally, or have been nurtured as a child. I have been strongly influenced by people who placed protocol above good humanity, and for a while it was how I lived my life. Indeed it was a way expected when you mixed in certain circles. Now, I am much more forgiving and accepting, and this is key when you live in another culture as I do. (But amusing too, as in the present circumstances, protocol and form are paramount. As a foreigner I can get away with ignoring a lot of it.)

October 13, 2012 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger Janiepip said...

Hi there, I have always had the mantra of treat people how you wish to be treated yourself. This I have passed to two grown up daughters. I read a quote yesterday on Pintrest "Rudeness is the weak person's imitation of strength" how true. Best wishes for 2013 Jane x

January 1, 2013 at 7:56 AM  

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